Cover letters are your first sales pitch to a potential employer. Remember that employers receive hundreds of CVs and cover letters from people that are applying for the job you want. Your goal is to stand out from the other candidates. A good cover letter introduces you to the employer and explains why you are one of the best candidates applying for the job. The following are guidelines to help you create a cover letter that stands out from the crowd.
1. Proofread your letter for errors and tone before you mail it. Writing like a professional assumes that your letter contains no spelling, typing, or grammatical errors. Job applicants are frequently deselected because of such mistakes.
2. Address your letter to the person who can hire you—hiring managers and department heads. Call the company and find out the name and title of the person to whom to address your letter. It shows initiative and resourcefulness, and will impress your reader that you figured out a way to address him/her personally.
3. Send your letter to an individual, not a company. Use their name and title, when available. Do not guess gender when addressing a letter. Your goal is to get your letter to the person who is actually doing the hiring and for whom you would be working.
4. Write in your own words. Make sure that your letter sounds like you, not like something out of a book. Your cover letter, as well as your CV, should be an accurate reflection of your personality. Employers are looking for knowledge, enthusiasm, and focus.
5. Check out reference tools to help with grammar, spelling, etc. Because it is so critical to be as accurate and professional as possible with your cover letter, don’t hesitate to utilize the variety of reference tools that are available to help you with grammar, spelling, and letter writing.
6. Show you know something about the company and the industry. This is where your research comes in. Don’t go overboard—just make it clear that you didn’t pick this company out of the phone book. You know who they are, what they do, and you have chosen them.
7. Use terms and phrases that are meaningful to the employer. Customize your letter as much as possible to the needs of the employer. This requires that you think about the company, their customers, and the work you see yourself doing for them.
8. Be sure you include a return address and phone number. Your return address includes your street address, city, state, zip code, and telephone number.
9. Adapt a formal tone to your letter to promote yourself as a professional. Your letter should be as close to a business proposal as you can get—not a plea for an interview. What do you offer that is of value. What objectives can you help them achieve.
10. Downplay “i” and emphasize “you.” Try to convert “I haves” into “you wants” for the employer. What can you do for the organization that will create interest and arouse a desire for an interview with you?
11. Sound confident, but not cocky. If you meet all the stated requirements for the job, spell this out in your letter. Accentuate the good match between your skills and their needs. Doing so will emphasize your viability as a candidate.
12. Make sure your letter provides readers with some insight into you as an individual. Make your accomplishments, skills, and background the subjects of your sentences, and emphasize what these can contribute to your reader’s organization. Use concrete, specific language so that the reader gets a good sense of what you have done and who you are.
13. Draft your letter in a way that shows how you will fit into the organization. State who you are and what you want in terms of what you can do for the company. Appeal to the self-interest of your employer.
14. Structure your letter so that each part achieves a particular goal. State the purpose of your letter in your opening paragraph. Keep the letter organized. Decide on the focus of your letter and ensure that all points reinforce the topic.
15. Visually call attention to your qualifications by underlining them, bolding them, or indenting them in lists with bullets. You have to be careful with underlining because the line is often printed too close to the word, and reduces its readability. Use these kinds of emphasis sparingly just to make the highlights stand out when the reader gives your letter a quick skim.
16. Keep it short. Keep it simple and clean…not cluttered. Use no more than seven lines, and preferably five or fewer, per paragraph. Vary the sentence length. None of the sentences should be very long, but you don’t want a staccato stream of very short sentences. One page is the maximum for letters.
17. Demonstrate your skills. For any position, there are two types of skills: core skills that any serious applicant will be expected to have, and a much broader range of skills that would be useful to the employer but go beyond the basic requirements. Having the first kind gets you in the door; the second makes you stand out from the competition.
18. Send original letters. Do not send copies that look mass-produced and do not use form letters. Do not use dot matrix printers. Do not hand-write your letter.
19. Keep the letter interesting. Your cover letter should cover two important points: (1) what you can do for the company (2) what the company needs that you have to offer. Most people miss the most important point. They spend all the time telling about themselves when they should be concentrating on how they will benefit the company. That is what the employer will find interesting.
20. Include a copy of your CV. Remember that the one purpose for a cover letter is to get your CV into the hands of the employer and to obtain an interview. Don’t forget to enclose a copy of your CV!
21. Avoid vague statements. A letter that could be sent to any employer merely by replacing the name of the company is called a broadcast letter. It can be improved with more specifics.
22. Open with an attention grabber that generates interest immediately. There are many ways to open your letter. Whatever opening you use, get to the point quickly, but engage your reader’s attention. If you quickly focus on discussing how you can contribute to the organization, you have a strong opening.
23. Do not enclose a photo. Unlessyou are seeking employment in modeling, acting, or other performance industries, it is not appropriate to send a photograph with your cover letter. An employer will see what you look like, should you reach the interview stage. Until then, a photo will not help you get a foot in the door!
24. Do not write in all caps. Do not justify right margins. The contents and organization of your letter are the most important elements, but presentation has an effect too. Be sure your letter has a professional appearance.
25. Finish your letter with a request. The primary goal of your cover letter is to get an interview. Be sure and ask for one at the end of your cover letter. Be prepared to initiate the follow-up communication yourself and let your prospective employer know you will be doing this. This may be just enough to get them to hold onto your letter and give it a more thorough reading.