Tips for Job Application Cover Letters #
Cover letters are often read after the resume. It's just natural; the resume has your skills and the recruiter, HR staff, or hiring manager will use that resume to weed out the unqualified.
So Why Write A Cover Letter? #
The cover letter is your chance to show your enthusiasm and make a personal connection. It's also a great chance to highlight any skills included in your resume that particularly match the needs of your target employer.
The Basics #
If you don't have the basics, you're maximizing your chances of ending up in the circular file. That's not a desired result. Make sure your cover letter:
- Is error-free
- Is on high-quality, professional-looking paper, matching your resume-paper, with a matching envelope
- Personalize the letter, not "To Whom It May Concern,"
- Generally, this will take the form "Dear Mr. Jones". Use "Dear Larry" only if you've already met the person or if, for some reason, you're particularly comfortable with them.
- If you can't determine the gender of the recipient, use "Dear Chris Smith" or "Dear Director Smith"
- If, worst-case scenario, you don't have a name, use "Dear Hiring Manager"
- Signed, by you
Formatting Tips #
- Use the same header for your resume and your cover letter; it makes your material easy-to-recognize and easy-to-connect.
- If sending a printed letter, use serif fonts (like Times), not sans serif fonts (like Arial); if you expect the letter to be read online, use a sans-serif font. Sans serif fonts are easier-to-read on-screen, while serif fonts, are dramatically easier to read on paper.
- Left-aligned text is much easier-to-read; justifying the text makes word and letter spacing uneven, which impairs readability.
Writing Tips #
What's the most common first word of a paragraph in a cover letter? "I". Use another word. A few ideas:
- "Marketing interests me because..."
- "Jim Smith recommended..."
- "Nestle's summer internship interests me because..."
Make your skills stand out and communicate your passion for the product. Don't hesitate to use bullets and headings to add visual punch to highlight these.
On the topic of prose vs. bullets, use whatever you're best at writing. Bullets are also a great tool when you have a laundry list of skills, etc.
Letter Structure #
First Paragraph #
- Introduce yourself
- Don't be too personal
- Make sure the recipient is clear on your expectations here ("I am writing in application for the position of...")
- If you've spoken with somebody at the company, name-drop straight away, on the first line if at all possible
- State your career objective.
- Mention that your resume is enclosed
Second Paragraph #
- Concentrate on your relevant skills and highlight them
- Bring in anything mentioned in the job ad and show how you have that skill or can solve that problem
- Write about the reader, not the writer
- Explain why you're interested
- Explain why this is such a great opportunity for them, not for you!
Third Paragraph #
- Kiss butt
- Show your interest
- You can include this content in paragraphs one and four if you prefer, skipping three entirely
- Fourth Paragraph
- Specify a follow-up action; this can be "My resume is attached," because you're applying for a specific interview, but it needs to be more specific for other situations. In these cases, a good ending is "I will call your office next week to arrange an appointment at your convenience." Don't fixate on too specific of a time, you'll hurt yourself if you can't make it, but be pretty specific so that you can be expected.
- Express your enthusiasm
Typical Boo-Boos #
- Don't mail merge. Nothing like a letter to
Name!Bookmark Not Foundto make you stand out... in the wrong way. If you want the job, communicate that you care by making each application personal.
- Check that you didn't include another company's name
- Check that you have the recipient's name right
- If applying online, don't waste space with info that will be available to the recipient online.
- Don't write too long
- Don't start every paragraph with "I"
- Don't forget to follow up!