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The Importance of a Good Cover Letter

Hiring managers will not read an excellent resume if it comes with a poorly written or unimpressive cover letter. Cover letters should combine formal business etiquette with your personality and individual style. Look like a professional but not like every other professional out there. Cover letters must include contact information, a salutation, an introduction, body copy, conclusion, and signature. Use a proper business letter format but make the layout unique.

On the lighter side

comic about job search

A formal business letter starts with Contact Information and Salutation. Start with your name, email, street address, and phone number at the top, followed by the date beneath that and the employer’s contact information beneath that. Try to find and use the hiring person’s name. Avoid using phrases like “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To whom it may concern.” Overused phrases like these put managers off right from the beginning. If you can’t get the name, be creative.

In the Introductory Paragraph, tell the hiring manager where you learned about the job and name the specific position. If someone referred you, include that information as well. Avoid overused, unnecessary phrases like “thank you for considering me.” Keep this paragraph short and sweet. Hiring managers skim it to get the necessary information and don’t want to get bogged down. Including an imaginative statement that will encourage further reading is fine but make it short and precise.

The body section, usually 2 or 3 short paragraphs, entails matching the job requirements with your skills and experience. Write correctly but in a style that reflects your personality and work style. Make it interesting and memorable. Avoid overused phrases and clichés like “detail-oriented,” “self-starter,” “think outside the box,” and “perfect for the job.” Try to think about how many letters and resumes the person must get through and what phrases they might see consistently. Avoid those phrases but do include keywords and phrases from the job description. Talk about how your experiences and skills will help your prospective employer. Do not just reiterate the information in your resume. Tell them something new.

In the first body paragraph, summarize why your skills and experience make you the best candidate for the position. Instead of writing a topic sentence for this paragraph that explains what you are about to tell them, grab the reader’s attention. Instead of “My experience and training make me the perfect person for this position,” you could write, “Since I have worked in every department in a hardware store, I can write product descriptions from personal experience.” An English teacher might disapprove of that as a topic sentence, but a hiring manager will continue to read. “I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism” could be more interesting as “While working towards my journalism degree, my professors all thought I had a real flair for writing advertising.” Be interesting rather than proforma. Instead of naming your skills and qualifications, reveal them within original, personal writing.

In paragraph two, tell a story about something you learned or accomplished that will add value to the employer. It can be about a specific problem you solved or a unique aspect of your background if it’s pertinent. Write about the unusual extra training you have taken that will help you in your new position or a personal long-term goal that will reveal your character and personality. Did you do something in a previous job that positively impacted the company? Did an idea of yours change the direction of a department? Did you dream of being an astronaut as a kid to see the earth from space because you like getting perspective? Everyone loves a story, tell a small part of yours.

In the third paragraph, highlight your uniqueness. Use anything from getting three promotions in three years to the broad industry knowledge you gained by working in four different departments within a company. Perhaps you began your career while still a student, working part-time in a startup, and then you stayed with it while it grew. Use whatever makes your background special. Maybe you changed careers, and your previous career gives you an advantage. Some examples are salesperson turned advertising writer, a professional athlete turned radio personality, or a model turned fashion designer. Think creatively about what makes you different and try to get that idea across.

Lastly, write a memorable but concise conclusion with a call to action. Hiring managers look for employees with excellent communication skills, so use clear, businesslike language. Take this last chance to persuade the reader to look at your resume by referring them to a specific place on your resume. You can ask them to notice the accomplishments of a previous job. Tell the reader what you want them to do next after reading your resume. Ask them to contact you for an interview or references. Lead the employer to the next step.

After adding a professional close like “sincerely” and your signature, proofread. Use a grammar checker, read the letter aloud, and enlist someone to read through it. Nothing will get your letter and resume to the circular file faster than misspellings and grammar errors. Most writing platforms provide some editing help but cautiously read through for words that are spelled correctly but are the wrong words. Check for things like “there” vs. “their” and “it’s” vs. “its.” How about “write” vs. “right” or “site” vs. “sight”. Some of these mistakes might get caught electronically, but never rely on a computer completely. Some of these mistakes might get caught electronically, but never rely on a computer completely. 

Make sure your cover letter gets read by making it visually appealing and easy to read. You can include some font changes like bolds and italics and bullets if the end result looks professional. The letter should motivate the hiring manager to look at your resume but should also reveal new information about you, the applicant. A cover letter that communicates clearly but reflects your personality will help you avoid the reject pile during the first sort

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