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Looking for a job? We know how tedious it feels. But don't be tempted to underestimate the potential power of a great cover letter in your job search. There are certain must-dos, as well as common mistakes to avoid once you understand the basics of how to write a great cover letter.
We know there's a lot to do and it might be easy to overlook the cover letter or find a cover letter template and think you have crossed a to-do item off your list. The most common mistake might simply be to look online for cover letter templates and cover letter examples and copy and paste those right into your version.
Believe us, we know that it might seem like a short-cut that is logical to take. After all, don't we start every new task these days with a quick internet search to understand what's out there? While it's fine to look at cover letter examples, be wary of believing you can make an excellent impression by copying something that's boilerplate.
We understand the temptation to crib someone else's cover letter but unlike resume templates (which we're fond of), we think there's a good argument for writing your own. Of course, there is a checklist of things you feel like you should do instead. After all, first, you have to make sure you write a great resume. This in itself takes a lot of work but is something you can use resume templates to start from an efficient place. Then, of course, comes browsing through countless job listings, sorting out which ones you're qualified for and trying to network with insiders who might help you land those jobs.
With that in mind, here are eight tips on how you can write a compelling, well-written cover letter.
Each company you approach will be different, so it makes sense to tweak your cover letter accordingly. So, apart from checking out the company's official website, find out as much as you can about the company culture and employees. Read their LinkedIn profiles and Twitter feeds, as well as articles in which the company has been covered in-depth. Once you know how they work, you will be able to get the tone of your letter just right.
Some people even suggest that a good cover letter should be tailored to the job description to have the maximum impact on your potential employer. A great cover letter could include a sentence or a short paragraph about the reasons why a prospective employer is a good fit for the job seeker, for example. Understand how your qualifications mesh with a company goal and take advantage of the few sentences you have to convey your knowledge of the company as a job seeker.
Instead of going on about how you've read their job advertisement and posting on some website (Hint: they know you did since they're the ones who put it there), start by explaining why you are interested in the job, and what you can bring to the company if selected. Mention relevant experience, as well as your contacts inside the company, if you have them. Also, address the hiring managers by their names if possible. (This may require a bit of research.)
A prospective employer can get a sense of your personality and writing right away so don't start with copy that you've lifted verbatim from a cover letter example you found online. Not only does this make you look like an exceptionally uncreative candidate but your cover letter template may need some updating (Read: no one ever really gets excited about a "Dear Sir or Madam" opening at the beginning of a cover letter).
Companies are always looking for people who are good at solving problems. Once you have found out more about the company, you might be able to anticipate what sort of challenges they'll face in the future. Provide a solution for it, or better yet, mention how you've dealt with a similar issue in the past and solved it successfully. This will surely make your cover letter stand out from the rest.
When you're applying for a job you want to be sure you're clear about your qualifications for the specific role in which you're interested. Don't use generalities when you can be specific about how you're going to slay a particular role or over-deliver on your dream job because you bring relevant experience and ton of passion to the responsibilities involved. These kinds of details will never be found on a sample cover letter, which means you have to actually take the time to craft a compelling and personalized story about why you want the job and why you're a great fit as a job seeker.
Taking the time to do this is time well-spent. After all, your cover letter, if read, will be the first impression you make on your potential employer, hiring manager, or recruiter.
One of the things that tends to attract the attention of the recruiters is your passion for the job. Why? Because if you are passionate about the job, that means you will need no additional motivation. This is why you should always start by reaching out to the companies you are most interested in.
If you don't convey enthusiasm right off the bat, what makes you think you'll be able to show the requisite level of passion during a subsequent phone interview or in-person job interview? Thinking through what aspects of the job or company motivate you will serve you well later, so it's worth the investment to think through this aspect of your cover letter.
You will find plenty of advice online telling to keep your cover letter one page long, but it's better if you can make it even shorter. Keep in mind that the recruiters sometimes need to go through hundreds of letters. If yours is too long, it will be ignored. In this day and age, many cover letter also should be placed in a body of an email rather than an attachment which may be difficult to open (e.g. on a mobile phone or because of file incompatibility). Plus, you're asking the email recipient to open yet one more thing. Why make life harder for someone?
Remember that just as important to think about when crafting a letter as what to put in it, is what to leave out. Don't make the mistake of creating a long cover letter that essentially mimics your resume at every turn. Your resume includes dates, specific milestones and educational and professional accomplishments (as it should). However, that means that a lot of personality and passion and your origin story will be left out, by definition. While you shouldn't try to tell your whole life story in a cover letter, it is a place with infinitely more freedom. So put on your creative hat and think about how to capture someone's attention if they are quickly scanning your resume to get a sense of who you are beyond a list of neatly organized, resume bullet points.
Other times, cover letters are separately requested attachments in an online career site job application process. There, you have no choice but to upload a document. In this case, make sure to use a PDF due to formatting issues that different versions of Microsoft Word or Apple Pages can have when someone opens your document using different software or different versions of the same software application.
You may doubt the importance of a cover letter when there are so many other things to do as a job seeker. We understand you have to send out resumes, polish and update your LinkedIn profile, research our potential employers and their company cultures, policies, and benefits, and preparing answers to potential interview questions. It's no wonder that the job search process feels like a chore.
So it's natural and tempting to think that on top of everything else, you do not need to write an effective cover letter. You might think it may not even be read, which begs the question of whether you actually need to write one. However, according to Sam Williams, who is the head of HR department of BestEssays, cover letters are still a must:
“Yes, your cover letter might not be read at all, but if you don't write one, it will be held against you, and you will come off as lazy. It doesn't seem fair, but that's the way it is.”
Cover letters (especially the kind that are physically delivered or attached (as opposed to in the body of an e-mail) should include a date, an address field area, and a closing signature area with your full name. Your contact information, including your phone number and email should be readily apparent in your letter though the location of this information will differ depending on whether you are writing an email cover letter or a traditional cover letter attachment to be mailed or filed in a prospective employer's applicant tracking system.
When it comes to formatting, most cover letter experts suggest a three-part approach that includes an introductory paragraph, the body of the letter, and a closing paragraph. However, we believe this is a general guideline and also potentially more appropriate for a formal, attachment-type cover letter than an email cover letter.
Avoid generic salutations but make sure you include the person's name (do not guess gender if you do not know it - a "Pat" can be female or male) rather than "To Whom It May Concern". The body of your email should address your qualifications and interest in the position using the above 5 tips for writing a good cover letter.
Also, be sure to format your cover letter as a professional business letter or formal correspondence. Use a formal, business font, and don't include images or other distracting informal styling to your cover letter.
Last but definitely not least, it's very important to edit and proofread your cover letter, regardless of whether it is an attachment or e-mail message. The reader will notice grammatical and spelling errors, so be sure to check your writing for careless errors!
Follow these tips to increase your chances with recruiters, and hopefully, you'll land that job with the help of a well-written cover letter. Good luck!
Joan Selby, a graduate of California Institute of the Arts, is a productivity coach, a writer at Writerzone.net and a blogger, and a fancy-shoe lover. A writer by day and reader by night, she gives a creative touch to everything. Find her on Twitter and Facebook.
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