Create a Winning Cover Letter

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Posted by The Editors on May 29, 2011
Create a Winning Cover Letter

A cover letter serves two important functions, says recruiter Emy Unger. It introduces and sells you. Putting your best foot forward means sending a thoughtful, distinct letter, so consider these nine tips:

1. Keep it short. The ideal cover letter is about half a page long, and never exceeds one page. A concise letter demonstrates that you are focused and have strong communication skills. Aim for two to four brief paragraphs.

2. State the position. The recruiter who reads your letter may be hiring for several posts. While candidates who e-mail their resumes often include the job title in the subject line of their e-mails, if the recruiter prints a letter out before reading it, such information may be lost. Clearly state the job title in the first paragraph of the letter, preferably in the first sentence.

3. Explain why you want the job. “Candidates should always answer the question ‘Why do I want to do this work?’” says Unger. Ask yourself how the position fits into your overall career plans and what you find exciting about the particular sector. A genuine show of enthusiasm and knowledge will set you apart from those sending generic form letters.

4. Clearly describe ways you will contribute. According to Andrew Posner, a career counselor and website consultant in San Francisco, this is the most important element of a cover letter. After carefully reading the job description, write a paragraph outlining one or two specific examples of how your skills and experiences will fit the company’s needs.

5. Match, but don’t reiterate, your resume. This is one point many job seekers find tricky. You should never claim experience in your cover letter that isn’t reflected on your resume. Doing so makes you look like a liar. At the same time, your cover letter shouldn’t simply restate your resume. When you explain the ways you will contribute, refer to an experience or skill on your resume to show how you will add value to the company.

6. Don’t say you’re not qualified. Even if you think the position is out of your reach, your job is to convince the recruiter you are qualified. If the recruiter thinks you’re unqualified, a confessional letter is not going to get you an interview. Keep the letter positive by focusing on your transferable skills and unusual accomplishments.

7. Keep the tone and content professional. “Don’t be a comedian, don’t get really personal, and don’t beg for the job,” says Unger. Recruiters are more likely than not to think your attempts at humor or stories about your personal life are just plain weird.

8. Tell the reader what you’re going to do next. Too many job seekers never follow up after sending a resume. “Saying what you’re going to do next is the second-most important thing to do in your letter,” says Posner. “It forces you to make a commitment to action.” If the job post lists a phone number, indicate you will call within a specified time to arrange an interview. If not, consider calling anyway, unless the post specifically requests “no calls.” You may also consider a follow-up e-mail if you sent your resume electronically.

9. Proofread. Again. Using a spell checker is not enough. Many recruiters will dismiss even the most qualified candidate if there’s one typo in the cover letter or resume. Reread your letter two or three times, then give it to someone else who knows a thing or two about good writing. Even if your letter is free of typos, poor grammar also makes a bad impression.

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