A cover letter is an employer's "first impression" of you. Cover letters are extremely important tools that introduce, repeat, and reinforce resumes. Use your cover letter to discuss your skills, experiences, and desires. Keep in mind that the best cover letter is a personalized sales pitch for you and that writing a good cover letter requires a lot of time and thought——make yours scream "You want to meet me to discuss this position!"
I. Use Interviewer's Name and Job Title
Find the name of the person who can hire you or recommend you to the person who does the hiring for the company. Tailor and personalize your cover letter to this person for the specific job that you want. Address your cover letter to this person, including his/her job title, be sure you spell the name, title and organization correctly.
II. Follow Standard Format
Use this standard cover letter format that employers are accustomed to reading. Example:
Your street address
Your city, state, and zip code
Your telephone number (including area code)
Your E-mail address
2 SKIPPED LINES
Date (write out the date)
2 SKIPPED LINES
Their complete name and title (use two lines if long)
Their street address (use two lines if long)
Their city, state, and zip code
2 SKIPPED LINES
Salutation (Dear Mr. Smith:)
1 SKIPPED LINE
Introductory paragraph (see Spark Interest)
1 SKIPPED LINE
Content paragraph(s) (see Sell Your Skills and Qualifications)
1 SKIPPED LINE
Closing paragraph (see Take Action)
2 SKIPPED LINES
4 SKIPPED LINES
Your full name
1 SKIPPED LINE
Resume enclosure notation (Enclosure)
III. Win the 30-Second-Sort
Grab their attention! An employer may have a person quickly scan a stack of 200 or more cover letters with resumes, discarding all but 10-20 for the interviewer to review and decide if an interview should be scheduled. This is sometimes called is the "30-second sort." How does the screener decide which to keep and which to discard? How can you increase your chance of getting to the interviewer? Here are three tips to help your cover letter win the 30-second sort.
Tip 1—Use the Power of Attention Drawing Design
The layout and design of your cover letter works for you or against you in the first five to eight seconds. Use:
- indented lists
Tip 2—Use the Employer's Key-Need Words
In the job advertisement or description you will see key words or descriptive phrases that define the employer's specific needs and the skills that the employer is seeking to meet these needs. These words can be called "key-need" words.
Analyze the job advertisement or job description to identify and define the employer's key-need words. Prioritize and use these words in the employer's order of importance or presentation. Utilize the key-need in your cover letter and highlight them by using all-caps and bolding or underlining.
Tip 3—Use Your Common Sense
Don't overuse attention-grabbing design features. Look at your cover letter with and without the features and see which letter you would read first.
When filling out forms, be sure to fill in each part—use N/A (not applicable) for items that do not apply to you to make the form look complete.
IV. Spark Interest—Letter Opening
Show enthusiasm in your introductory paragraph by using interest-verbs and adjectives. These words help your letter gain attention and interest. In the introductory paragraph, state why you are writing, what you want, and who referred you or how you decided to contact the person or company.
V. Sell Your Skills and Qualifications—Letter Body
Fan the reader's attention in the body of your letter with content that explains and convinces them that you are qualified for this job. The purpose of these paragraphs is to persuade the employer that you match their needs. Change their interest into desire by presenting fact after fact using key-need words and action verbs.
- Tell why you want this type of work and specifically, why you want to work for this organization.
- Present your most powerful selling points and connect them to the employer's needs.
- Point out your relevant work and education.
- Keep your writing concise and brief.
- Strive to project confidence.
- Use key-need words (maximum of 3) in bold, indented headings for your main paragraphs.
- Use each paragraph to describe your skills and abilities that match the employer's key-need words.
VI. Take Action—Letter Conclusion
Change their desire into action in your closing paragraph by stating the actions or steps you intend to take to get the interview date. Be sure to explicitly state your expectations.
- Reaffirm what a good match you are for the job. Use words like confident, feel, believe, seems, could or appears in this first sentence.
- My background seems to be a good match for this position.
- I believe my skills and experience can be a benefit your company.
- My selling experience and closing skills could be an asset to your company.
- My training and experience appear to match your job requirements.
- If given the chance, I am confident that I could meet your product development needs.
- Optional (but recommended)——State the action you plan to take. If you know the company name and phone number state when you will contact the employer at "the end of this week" or "next week." This is better than stating a specific day, because if you forget to call on one day you still have other days to professionally follow through. Announcing your plans to call also gets you around the secretary, because you can say, "She is expecting my call."
- I hope to speak with you and will call the week of the 10th to...
- I will be in Seattle around the 15th, and will call you prior to that date to schedule a meeting. I look forward to discussing...
- The opportunity to meet with you would be a privilege. With this in view, I will call you next week.
- State the response you want and state it with anticipation! (Anticipation Words)
- I look forward to an interview.
- I would like to meet with you and discuss how my experience and abilities match your job requirements.
- Tell them how to contact you (address above or restate your telephone number here).
- Optional——Thank them for his/her time and consideration of your application.
- 90% of executives say writing cover letters is valuable, according to a Robert Half survey.
- Job seekers can help themselves by tailoring their cover letters to specific employers.
- Incorporating keywords that match terms in the job posting can help job seekers with companies that use resume-filtering software.
In the age of the digital recruiting, do cover letters matter anymore? The short answer: Yes. Surprising to some, they matter more now than ever.
In fact, a Robert Half poll found that 90 percent of executives consider cover letters a valuable tool when assessing job candidates. Yet, far too often, job seekers treat them as afterthoughts to the resume.
Your cover letter is your introduction to a company and an opportunity to make a good first impression on your prospective employer. So don't squander it. Resumes help employers — with a growing number of assists from software — wade through a huge pile of applications. But the cover letter is often the first thing the hiring manager sees, especially as the pile shrinks to likely candidates. It's an opportunity to provide a brief accompanying narrative of who you are and why you're qualified for the position. So why not take advantage of this chance to shine?
Robert Half has been helping job seekers find great career opportunities since 1948. Let us help you find the right job for you.
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Here are some tips for writing the kind of cover letter that helps your resume jump to the top of the pile — one that convinces hiring managers and HR professionals to bring you in for an interview.
1. Don't just rehash your resume
A strong cover letter should do much more than just restate salient details from your resume. Here's a brief checklist of important functions of a cover letter:
- Draw attention to specific skills and experience that make you an ideal candidate.
- Mention relevant skills and personal qualities the resume may not illustrate.
- Explain why you would love to have the job in question — and how it advances your personal career goals.
- Establish any personal connections to the company or hiring manager, and how you'd like to help the business grow.
- Justify any gaps in your resume.
2. Tailor it to a specific job
Just as we recommend for the resume, take the time to target your cover letter to the job at hand. Write a cover letter they can't ignore. Begin by carefully reviewing the job description, making a list of specific skills and experience that match this particular role.
Just as important, gather facts and figures that support your claims. For example, if you're applying for a managerial role, mention the size of teams and budgets you have managed. If it is a sales role, discuss specific sales goals you've achieved.
In addition to highlighting your talents, you can further personalize your cover letter by demonstrating your familiarity with the specific industry, employer and type of position.
Remember, your future employer doesn't just want a warm body. They want employees who love their work. They know these are the people who tend to perform better, serve as stronger team members and have greater potential to grow along with the business.
3. Address the hiring manager personally
Just as you personalize your resume to the role, you should also address the cover letter to the person actually hiring for the position. If it is not spelled out in the job posting, call the employer's main phone number and ask for the name and title of the hiring manager.
This is also your chance to show that you've done your research on the company, its mission and key leadership. Mention any personal connections you have to the company and colleagues you might have in common. The cover letter process underscores one of the chief reasons for attending professional conferences and luncheons. Many job referrals are based on personal connections.
4. Use a standard business letter format
A cover letter is not a quick email you dash off. You should write to the same standards as any formal business letter. Use a standard font size (10 or 12 point, in a readable font style such as Times New Roman, Arial or Calibri). Keep it to one page (generally three or four short paragraphs). And include your name and contact information at the top in a business letter format.
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5. Use keywords from the job description
Many employers use resume-filtering software that scans for resume keywords and evaluates how closely resumes and cover letters match the preferred skills and experience.
That means your cover letter should incorporate key phrases you've identified in the job description. During the writing process, review qualifications such as the type of degree required, the number of years' experience needed, specified software skills, organization and communication abilities, and project management background.
6. Proofread thoroughly
Once you're convinced you've made a strong argument for your candidacy, it's time to proofread your work. No hiring manager wants to see a great cover letter with typos and grammatical errors.
After you've given your cover letter a final polish, ask a friend with excellent grammar, punctuation and spelling skills to review it. Consider giving him or her a copy of the job posting so they can help make sure you've hit all the right points.
7. End on a high note
In your concluding paragraph, reiterate in a sentence or two why you are the right person for this job. Most hiring managers will go to the resume after reading your cover letter, so prepare them to notice what you want them to see next.