In these days of electronic resume submission, the art of writing an effective cover letter has been lost. In many cases, companies just ask for an online resume submission and make the cover letter optional. Even when online submission is not the case, many job seekers will email or even snail mail a resume with no thought about the content of their cover letter. This is a mistake. A good cover letter can go just as far in getting an interview as a resume can. A proper cover letter is courteous and provides a bit of insight into who you are. It serves as a preview for the resume to come and, if properly executed, will leave the reviewer eager to read more. It doesn’t matter if you are sending a physical copy of your resume, submitting it online via web form or emailing it, a cover letter is not to be avoided or treated as an afterthought.
Just like a resume, a cover letter must be targeted to the specific job at hand. The days of writing a generic cover letter and sending it to every job are gone. To create a targeted cover letter, you should keep a copy of the resume you’ll be sending for this job opening nearby. You will focus your cover letter to this job so your already-focused resume will serve as a guide.
Regardless of whether it is the body of an email that has your resume attached or a standalone piece to be mailed in or attached to an online application, a cover letter must follow a basic format. The standard cover letter layout is:
- Contact information
- Personal greeting
You will place your contact information and today’s date at the top of your cover letter. Your contact information consists of your name, address, telephone number and email address. If you do not have a professional-sounding email address, sign up for a new free email address with Gmail, Live or Yahoo. After your personal information, list the date and then skip a line and list the company’s address. Under the address, write “ATTN” and list the job opening title, vacancy number if there is one, or similar information. If this is an email, the company address can be left out and you can place the “ATTN” section in the subject line of the email.
A personal greeting needs to be just that: personal. If you don’t know the name of the person who will receive your resume, do all you can to find out. It probably just takes one phone call and some manners to get this information. By writing the letter to an actual person, you establish a personal connection. It shows courtesy and respect, quite the opposite of the turn-off caused by letters addressed “to whom it may concern.”
The purpose of the introductory paragraph is to state your reason for writing. A company might have 7 different job openings, so you need to make it easy on them. A lot of company representatives like to know where you found out about the opening to assess the effectiveness of their advertising, so it’s a good idea to tell them that as well. For example, you could write:
“I am writing to inquire about the Assistant Sales Manager Position that was listed on Newhires.com.”
If you were referred to the job by a current employee, it is vital to list that in the introductory paragraph as well, since that could be the “in” you need.
The body paragraph or paragraphs is where you will do your selling. Here is where having your resume nearby helps. You should have already written a new resume focused on this company’s specific needs outlined in the job posting. In this paragraph, you need to highlight one or two of the most important duties and detail how you can fill them. Start off with a quick introduction of yourself that does a bit of selling, such as “I am an experienced sales professional with 11 years in the automotive parts sales field,’ and then go into their needs and how you can help, based on accomplishments outlined in your resume. A well-written body paragraph will make the recipient want to read more about you in your resume.
Before you can sign off, physically or electronically, it’s time for the conclusion. The final paragraph wraps everything up and ends with a call to action. Here, you will thank them for their time, mention that your resume is attached for their review and suggest they contact you if they require further information “or to schedule a time to meet and discuss this opening further.” This is a subtle – or maybe not so subtle – hint that you are asking for an interview. The closing paragraph is where you lead the reader to the next steps in the process: they need to read your resume and cal you.