Resume cover letters are indispensable in your job search. Employers expect every resume to come with a matching cover letter. Like your resume, your cover letter should be an advertisement for you. It should not just be an introduction to your resume or a summary of your resume!
Today, cover letters are often e-mailed, so some of the rules you grew up with have changed. Others, such as basic courtesy, have withstood the test of time. This article will take you through the 8 steps to writing an excellent cover letter that will make you stand out from the crowd.
1. Read the job ad carefully and extract key phrases or words.
Your cover letter should be a response to a specific job posting. If you know which company you’d like to work for, but don’t have a job posting to refer to, you need to write a letter of inquiry instead. If you don’t have a job ad or company in mind, what you should do for now is visit Craigslist or a job search engine and find a job posting to practice with.
Read over the ad carefully. Now, read it again, looking for important words or phrases. For example, if the ad says “must respond to telephone inquiries daily,” then the phrase “telephone skills” should appear in your letter.
2. If sending by e-mail, come up with a relevant subject line.
After posting an ad online, your future employer is probably being bombarded with e-mails, not only from job seekers like you, but also from spammers. Make sure your e-mail stands out with a good title.
Don’t title your e-mail “resume” or “cover letter.” Especially do not leave the title blank! Give it a relevant title, such as “In Response to Monster.com Posting: Application for Nursing Position” or “Application for nursing position #04803-493.” These subject lines are specific, so they don’t look like spam.
3. Consider using a professional business letter format.
Whether a professional cover letter format should be used online is controversial. Some business people say e-cover letters should maintain the traditional letter format with a full heading, while others say this is unnecessary.
This author’s advice is to consider the job poster’s expectations when deciding whether to use a traditional format. Did the job poster make a formal job ad, with their name, the company’s address, and a greeting? Or did they post a 15-word ad with an anonymous e-mail address? Do they represent a conservative company? Is this a position in a conservative industry, such as banking, accounting, finance, or law?
If you think a traditional format is what the poster wants to see, include these items in the following order:
- Your street address
- Your city, state, and zip code
- The day’s date
- The recipient’s name
- The recipient’s title
- The company’s name
- The company’s street address
- The company’s city, state, and zip code
If you use a traditional format, it’s probably best to attach the cover letter to the e-mail, then write a short but eye-catching message in the body of the e-mail to encourage the reader to open the attachment.
If you’re not using the formal letter style, you can write your cover letter in the body of the e-mail.
4. Try to find out the job poster’s name.
These days, it may not be possible to find out a job poster’s name from an online job ad, but if you can do so, you’ll stand out from the crowd. If the employer listed the job on an employment site, do they have a profile? If they listed an e-mail address, does it have their name? Does Googling their e-mail address bring you to a LinkedIn profile?
If you can’t find the poster’s name, you’ll have to use a generic greeting such as “Dear Employer” or “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Sir or Madam.”
5. Start the body of the cover letter with a focused introduction of two or three sentences.
Your first sentence should give the name of the position for which you are applying. It’s helpful to include where you saw the job posting. If you were referred by a current employee, be sure to mention that. In the next sentence or two, appeal to what the employer wants. Pick the most important qualifications the employer requested and briefly explain how you meet these standards
6. In the next paragraph, explain how your skills match the employer’s needs.
To keep the reader interested, you need to make a clear connection between your skills and the qualifications mentioned in the job ad. Tie those key words and phrases to specific examples that back up your claims.
For example, let’s say the job ad says they need someone with “extensive PR experience.” You must say you have extensive public relations experience, then prove it. This would be a good place to talk about your last successful PR position. Don’t repeat what you said on your resume verbatim, but support your claim with concrete examples.
You may have both relevant work experience and an applicable educational background. In the above example, maybe you earned a Bachelor of Science in Communication with a focus on Public Relations. In this case, you may want to split this paragraph into two, with one focused on work experience and the other on education. Start with the one most relevant to the job ad.
Another option is to use cover letter bullet points to sum up how your skills match the qualifications. Bullet points may display differently on different monitors, so keep it simple.
If you don’t have directly related skills, emphasize transferable skills, while still trying to use as many of the job ad’s key terms as you can.
At the close of this paragraph, encourage the reader to see your attached resume. You can mention the format it is in, too.
7. In the last body paragraph, give your contact information, then thank the reader.
Your contact information should already be on your resume, but since it’s so important, it’s worth mentioning again. In these two or three sentences, give one or two phone numbers where you can be reached. If you’re best able to receive calls during certain times of the day or days of the week, mention that. You can also suggest dates during which you’d be available for an interview. Also, offer one e-mail address where you can be reached.
If you’re planning on contacting the company in a week or so to check up on the position, don’t be afraid to mention that.
Finally, thank the reader! You can thank them for their time, consideration, or both.
8. In closing, wrap up by writing “Sincerely,” moving to the next line, and including your full name.
Not every employer expects this closing, but it’s best to err on the side of formality. “Sincerely” is considered the default closing. “Yours truly” and “Best regards” may used when not following a traditional format.
To end the e-mail, type out your full first and last name.
By following these steps, you’ll be able to create a cover letter that showcases your professionalism and your skills. Don’t underestimate the power of a well-written cover letter. In this job market, you need every advantage you can get.