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Writing the Perfect Cover Letter

 

With the power to make or break your job-hunt, the cover letter accompanying your resume may well be the most important tool you will use during your search for employment.

A well crafted cover letter; one that effectively highlights your unique skills and accomplishments and clearly illustrates your potential value to the employer; will give you a competitive edge over other candidates. Designed to seize the attention of the reader, he or she will be curious to learn more about you. With attention and interest aroused, he will turn to your resume with an eye toward your employment candidacy.

On the other hand, a poorly written letter communicates a lot to the reader, but unfortunately, the message that is sent is not the one that you want to transmit. Send a poorly organized cover letter that looks unprofessional in form and design or that is filled with grammatical, punctuation, and spelling errors, and you send a message that you are an inarticulate and disorganized individual who is unable to communicate clearly and concisely.

The cover letter is, after all, the first communication that you will have with a potential employer. The reader will inevitably form an opinion about you from what is presented in this document. Given the importance of first impressions, it is obviously in your best interest as a job hunter to spend both time and thought writing a clear, concise, and attention grabbing cover letter. Even if you have the most stunning qualifications and accomplishments and have spent hours, or even days, crafting an impressive and high impact resume that communicates these, if your cover letter is poorly written, this resume may not even be read.

Likewise, a resume that arrives on an employer's desk unaccompanied by a cover letter will likely end up directly in the garbage. The failure to send a cover letter conveys to the employer that you are an unsavvy candidate, unfamiliar with even standard business practices.

Writing the letter

Step 1: It is important that your cover letter be visually attractive. Assure this by using quality paper and envelopes. Many individuals use paper that matches their resume in order to achieve balance and continuity. If you have crafted your resume on a computer, you may wish to use a matching letterhead for both documents. If paper matching your resume is unavailable, it is acceptable to use personal stationery or a white "laid" or "linen" paper in 24-lb bond or higher. Pay special attention to details, including the print quality. Laser or ink jet printing is preferable.

Step 2: Unless you have used personal stationery or letterhead matching your resume, begin your letter by typing the return address, excluding your name, in the upper left or right corner. The date appears next, on the left margin, two lines under your address. Apply two more lines and type the full names of the addressee, apply another line and type his or her title, another line and the company name, and finally, under this, the address. The salutation should begin two lines under the address and should be in the form of "Dear Mr. ..." or "Dear Ms. ..." In business correspondence, you should always use a colon after the salutation rather than a comma.

It is essential that you take the time to personalize each letter in this way. A letter addressed to "Whom it May Concern" will almost always be tossed aside. Do a little investigative work to learn the name and title of the person who has the hiring power in the company. Many times, you can obtain this information by simply making a two-minute phone call to the company or by spending a little time in the library. If, despite your best efforts, you cannot obtain the name of the hiring authority, try "Dear Hiring Manager:".

Step 3: The body of the letter comes next. Begin by thinking of your cover letter as a personal marketing document. As with any other marketing document, the purpose is to grab the reader's attention while emphasizing the most attractive benefits of the product or service. In this case, YOU are the product or service, and the message that you want to convey is that of your unique value to the employer. In order to do this, your letter must promote you to the employer by highlighting your achievements and accomplishments.

There are three basic parts to a cover letter:

1. An introduction - a statement of who you are and why you are sending the letter
2. A sales pitch - an overview of your qualifications, skills, abilities, and accomplishments
3. A call to action - a request for a specific action such as an interview

Ideally, you will cover these three basic parts in just 3 - 5 concise paragraphs typed on one page. The following is an outline of how the "typical" cover letter content is organized.

 

First Paragraph - Immediately state the position you are interested in and the reason that you would be the best candidate for this position. If you are responding to an advertisement, state this. If you have been doing research into the company, this is a good place to mention it.

Second Paragraph - Discuss your qualifications and show how the company will benefit from them. Highlight your special accomplishments. Consider using bullets to make these stand out. If you are responding to an advertisement, use this paragraph to detail how your background parallels the qualification requirements mentioned in the ad. Don't feel that you need to write a detailed synopsis of your employment history. Include just the highlights and the pertinent information.

Third Paragraph - Make it clear to the reader that you would like to speak to them in person. Specifically ask for an interview and make sure that you include your telephone number and any special instructions to reach you. Alternatively, write that you will follow up with a telephone call on a specific date at a specific time and then make sure that you do.

Step 4: The closing of your letter should appear two lines under the body. Align this with your return address. This may be either on the right or left margin, depending on the style you chose. A simple "Sincerely," will usually be fine. Under this, apply four lines and type your name. Make certain that after the letter is printed, you insert your signature above this.

Type an enclosure line on the left margin and several lines under your name. This may be in the form "Enclosure" or "Enc. resume". Finally, whenever possible, use an envelope that matches your paper. Try to avoid using mailing labels as this makes your envelope look similar to a bulk mailing and it may not be opened. Although it is acceptable to hand address or type the envelope, some experts believe that a hand written envelope will be more likely to be noticed and opened as it resembles personal correspondence. If you have the time and are sending only a few letters at a time, you may wish to use this method, otherwise, it may be more efficient to print the envelopes using a mail merge program.

Contributing Author: Michelle Dumas, CPRW, NCRW is a nationally certified professional resume writer and the owner and operator of Distinctive Documents. From an office based in Somersworth, NH, USA, Distinctive Documents provides comprehensive resume services to job hunters worldwide. For more information about the services of Distinctive Documents or to contact the author about this article, please call (603) 742-3983, send an e-mail message to support@distinctiveweb.com , or point your browser to http://www.distinctiveweb.com

Copyright Michelle Dumas 1997







 

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