You have your résumé ready and are actively job-hunting. You find out about a position that sounds perfect – it fits your background, it’s with a very reputable company, the work is exactly what you want to do.
How do you land this job?
Answer: By convincing the employer to hire you over the other qualified applicants. And you do this with your cover letter.
Your cover letter is an essential tool for getting a job. It is an opportunity for you to introduce yourself, contextualize the information in your résumé and discuss things that cannot be included in the résumé (such as your reason for applying, ways in which you can help the company, etc.).
The cover letter is the first thing to be read, so it needs to grab the employer’s attention and make him or her want to look at your résumé.
As with the résumé, there are several rules for composing and writing a cover letter that you should follow. Some of them are fairly intuitive, and some are not. The most important ones are listed below, along with some links to websites that have more detailed information and examples.
- Limit your cover letter to one page. As with your résumé, being brief is important as you need to maximize the time you get from the people hiring, who are always busy.
- The most commonly used structure has three parts (with each generally being one paragraph). The first part is the Introduction, the second the Body, and the third the Conclusion. See the Content section below for more about these.
- Always address your letter to a specific person, if possible. If the advertisement does not mention a name, take the time to search online for the hiring manager at the company, or call them if you need to. By addressing your letter to the right person you show employers that you are thorough, take initiative, and care about this job enough to take that extra step.
- Present your information in a bulleted list. This helps the employer immediately see the most important information first, and it saves them time as well, which will always be appreciated. Use numbers whenever possible for important achievements, as they are easier to comprehend and contextualize.
- Start with some research to get an idea of good ways to showcase your accomplishments. Search online for cover letters in your career field and for positions similar to the one you want.
- Start the letter with the Introduction, expressing your interest in the job and providing a specific reason (if you have one) for applying. In the second part, the Body, explain why you are the best person for this position by connecting the job requirements to your experience and abilities. This is the most important part of the letter and you should spend a lot of time thinking about what to say and how to say it. This paragraph needs to convince the employer to look at your application in greater detail. The final part, the Conclusion, is for thanking the employer for their time, mentioning that you will follow up in a few days, and ending the letter professionally.
- Be careful not to write the letter entirely from your point-of-view. Instead, think of the employer and what they might want to read. After all, they are the ones who will give you the job, so put yourself in their shoes and write how you will be able to help them and be an asset to the company. Talk about what you will bring, instead of simply focusing on why you need or want the job.
- Take the time to research the company and the position, and use this information to show the employer that you are serious about this application, will commit yourself fully and are truly an exceptional candidate worth hiring.
- Pay attention to how your cover letter looks. As with your résumé, generate a clean layout that is easy to read, looks good and presents the information in the proper priority.
- Separate all the important elements with spaces, using indents and consistent margins to organize the letter.
- You can also use features like Underline, Bold and Italics to add emphasis to certain words. This can be an effective way to call attention to specific information, as long as it is not overused.
- Use a frank, honest tone in your writing. Write with your real voice so your personality comes through in your letter.
- Be friendly, but professional and courteous.
- Do not use big words to impress. Be particularly careful using words that are unfamiliar to you or which you do not use on a regular basis.
- Do not simply reproduce the information in your résumé.
- Proofread carefully. Have at least two other people read and check your letter before you send it.
With these guidelines, you will have an effective cover letter that presents you to employers in the best light. In addition, you can refer to the following helpful websites for more information.
- General rules from CBS News:
- Detailed Guidelines on Format from Virginia Tech:
- Quick Tips from Purdue University:
- Suggestions from the University of Georgia Career Center:
- Some samples from UCSF’s Office of Career and Professional Development: