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Cover Letter

If at all possible, you will want to include a Cover Letter with your resume. The cover letter is an additional way of introducing yourself to a potential employer. What it says about you can be the difference between getting in the door and missing your chance

Preparation
Here’s a good way to get into the cover letter writing mode:

  • Think about yourself and your experiences. Think about how you would like to relate your experience to the organization you’re writing to. Which of your talents, skills, personality traits, and accomplishments should this particular organization need to know about? Brainstorm a list for yourself
  • How did you hear about this opportunity? If through a personal contact, write down the name. If through an advertisement, write down where and when you saw it, and list the specific points the ad wants you to include
  • What do you know about the organization you’re writing to? What attracted you to it in the first place? Maybe it’s personal (a friend worked there), or maybe you are impressed with what the organization does or admire their unique work philosophy
  • To whom are you writing? It’s always best to write to a real, live person (with a title) if you can, so if you’re not responding to an ad that includes a specific contact, try to look up the name of someone in particular to write. Be sure and spell both name and title perfectly

The Right Format

  • The cover letter should be one page long in standard business letter format. Busy people do not want to read long letters from people they do not know
  • You may indent your paragraphs or not – but not indenting gives a bit more room. Leave wide margins (minimum 1 inch), and let the right margin wrap naturally. Write clearly and avoid hyphenated words at the end of a line

Compose the Letter

  • Paragraph One: The first paragraph is the most important, so make it jump off the page. Start out by telling how you heard about the job – friend, employee, newsletter, advertisement, etc. This is especially important if you've been referred by a mutual acquaintance. For example, if a friend recommended that you write someone he knows at a company, don't start with "My friend, John Peterson, told me you have a job opening so I thought I would write." Instead, try something like: "I was thrilled when my friend, John Peterson, told me there was an opening for an assistant photographer at your company." Show a little excitement ... then quickly recite a few key strengths you have that might be needed there
  • Paragraph Two: Here, describe your qualifications for the job – skills, talents, accomplishments, and personality traits. But don't go overboard. Pick the top three talents or characteristics that would make you stand out as a candidate. Your resume is there to fill in the details. When writing this paragraph, think about how you can contribute to this company
  • Paragraph Three: Describe why you think you’d fit into the company – why it would be a good match. Maybe you like their fast growth or market, know people who already work there, or have always used their products. Companies feel good if the candidate feels some connection to them, even before they are hired
  • Paragraph Four: Mention the enclosed resume, give them a reason to read it in depth, and ask for an interview. Suggest a time and a way for you to follow up. Also give them ways to contact you easily if they wish

Essentials

  • Proofread carefully. No misspellings, no incorrect dates, no grammatical errors. Even ONE mistake indicates carelessness to the employer and may disqualify you before you've even had a chance. If spelling and grammar aren’t your strong points, ask for help
  • Write individual letters. Personalized communications are always the way to go, so take the time to tailor each letter to the organization and person to whom you’re writing.  Generic or form letters are offensive
  • Appearance counts. Choose a font that’s clear and easy to read, such as Times New Roman, Courier, or Book Antiqua, and always use a quality printer. The paper should match that of your resume. Send originals, never photocopies or corrected versions
  • Forget photos. Unless you’re an aspiring actor or model, don’t enclose a photo. It gives the screener one more reason not to call you for the interview
  • Use simple, clear sentences. Choose every word carefully. Ask yourself, "Is there any way I can say this more clearly?" And, "Is this giving the reader the exact idea I mean to communicate?"
  • Keep copies. You’ll need to have them handy when you follow up later. Always keep a supply of resumes on hand when in the process of interviewing for jobs 
     

Common Mistakes

  • Inaccuracies and errors show that you are careless. They are unacceptable, and can get you quickly dropped from consideration
  • Writing to a department or title: It’s best to write to a real person with a real title. The exception to this is when you’re answering an ad and specific contact information is not provided
  • Exaggerating your experience: Don’t "stretch" anything you say. Be completely truthful while still presenting yourself in the best possible light
  • Using "Dear Sir." Many cover letter readers are women. If you cannot get the name and title of someone to write to, it’s safer to use a generic title like "Dear Human Resources Manager" or simply say "Dear Sir or Madam"
  • Overusing "I." It’s okay to refer to yourself, but not in every sentence. Remember to use "you" even more.  Show the "you" to whom you are writing that you’re more concerned with meeting her or his needs than meeting your own
  • Forgetting to sign the letter or to attach your resume
  • Forgetting to give the employer a way to contact you. Include your home number and/or e-mail

Stand Out

  • Be yourself. The "formula" is fine, but each letter should reflect your personality and your enthusiasm - let it shine through. Take pride in who you are and what you’ve done. The reader is looking for a human being; a person who knows what he or she can offer and knows how to express it
  • Clearer expression. The fact is, most people come close to expressing what they really want to say, but usually miss the target. Take the time to craft your words and sentences to mean exactly what you intend, and you’ll be giant steps ahead
  • Write in the active tense. Active verbs are the key when writing cover letters and resumes. Instead of saying, "...my best attributes include team play and motivating people," say "I’m a dedicated team player who can motivate people..."  The latter promises a go-getter of an employee - someone who can take action instead of waiting to be led by the hand

 

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