The cover letter is your foot in the door, a single page explanation of yourself that is likely required in any position that you apply for. In fact, it is best practice to submit a cover letter whenever you apply to a job unless the instructions for the application clearly state otherwise. This personalized letter takes a bit of effort but if you keep these following points in mind then you will be able to write an attention-worthy cover letter.
Why is a Cover Letter Important?
Your cover letter is your very first impression that you can make on a potential employer. It is the place that you can introduce yourself, your shining personality and your communication competencies all within minutes. The cover letter also allows you to focus on and highlight specific experiences or skills that are relevant to the position for which you are applying. By ending your cover letter with a request to meet in person you are also taking the proactive stance in your job search.
How to Format a Cover Letter
The formatting of a cover letter isn’t too complicated depending on your school of thought. The current school of thought generally agrees that 1” margins and 12 point font is the professional standard. If possible, address the recipient of the letter directly. The cover letter is intended to be succinct so keep it to a single page. Be sure to include a clear introduction and a clear conclusion with a request to meet in person. There should be 2-3 paragraphs within the letter that highlight specific examples that demonstrate your skills and experiences.
What to Include in the Cover Letter
When you are writing your cover letter be very clear about the purpose of the letter. State why you are writing and address the reader directly. Read the job description before writing the letter so that you can address the required skills and experiences directly in the letter. Then, write your cover letter in a way that matches the job description closely.
Include your own voice in the letter so that the reader can get to know you. More often than not people are too afraid to loosen up their writing voice because they are afraid that it will take away from the professionalism. Instead, maintain proper grammar and writing but also be yourself. These things being said, leave out the gimmicky or cheesy lines that may unintentionally make you appear like a carnival prize more so than a valuable asset.
What to Leave Out of the Cover Letter
Though you want your personality to shine in your cover letter you also don’t want it to get too personal. Leave out slang and trends and try not to reveal too much about your personal hobbies unless they are directly relevant to your position. Also remember that the letter is an opportunity to expand upon your resume so don’t include every detail from your resume. Instead, focus on the most impressive and most relevant experiences.
A common mistake in cover letters is that the writer uses “I” too much. It is so tempting to include phrases like “I believe” or “I have” because this is a common way to preface things while speaking. For writing, however, it is very redundant as you are the author of your letter so it can be assumed that you indeed have these thoughts and beliefs that you are writing.
Also keep your letter light-hearted and positive. While drilling away at your competencies it can oftentimes be a bit intense for reading. Likewise, while you are trying to praise your potential new employer be very careful not to do so at the expense of others. Leave out any hearsay or negative comments about a previous employer or your potential future employer’s competition, as a cover letter is no place for that.
Be Specific and Personal
Your letter should contain two to three concrete examples in the body paragraphs that demonstrate your most valuable skills. Instead of touting your efficiency and incredible leadership skills, try to share an example that demonstrates these things. If you are making promises to your future employer, as well, be very specific about these promises. The letter should be so personalized and specific that the reader can see that you took the time to make sure that you really are a good fit for the position.
Questions to Keep in Mind
The most important tip to keep your letter focused is to create a list of questions that you are trying to answer in your letter. For instance:
- Who is my audience and what are they looking for?
- What exactly can I offer them that will satisfy their needs?
- Even more so, what can I offer them that is better than what any other candidate can offer?
- How can I grab the reader’s attention so that he/she is curious to read past the first paragraph?
- What evidence can I provide that proves that I’m a perfect fit for the job?
By keeping these questions in mind as you write you are sure to hit all the main points.
As you can see, your cover letter is extremely important for two reasons: it can highlight your skills by way of sharing examples and it can show off your personality through your own writing voice. Take advantage of this opportunity and utilize it to get the interview. Pour a lot of time and effort into your cover letter, follow these tips listed above and you will soon be able to write a cover letter that will win you interviews.