How effective is your cover letter? When applying for jobs, be sure to include a well-structured cover letter with your resume to accent your best qualities and encourage readers to look at your resume.
1. Follow standard business letter format. Use single spacing, twelve-point font, a readable script (such as Times New Roman), and one-inch margins around all four sides of the letter. Block style (paragraphs begin at left margin) is preferred, although modified block and other styles are acceptable. Check the company’s website for the name of the person or department that should receive your application, if that information is not included in the job posting.
2. Keep the cover letter to one or two pages. Let your resume showcase your credentials. The cover letter simply accents a few key points that will hook readers and send them to your resume for the full story. Paragraphs are generally four or five sentences long, though some may be longer or shorter. Keep your letter reader-centered by avoiding the overuse of “I” or “me”, especially at the beginning of paragraphs or sentences. For example, instead of writing, “My work history is a good match for this position,” write a statement that is more reader-centered: “You will see that my experience is a suitable match for your job opening.”
3. Use a polite and confident tone, but avoid sounding arrogant or pushy. Don’t say that “It would be a huge mistake to not hire me.” Take a more polished approach with something like “Your company excels at providing products the public needs, and I would welcome the opportunity to put my experience to work toward this goal.”
4. Use a typical business letter formula. The first paragraph should indicate your purpose of applying for a specific job opening, and where you heard about the position. The next few paragraphs should summarize your job experience and credentials that match the job description. Briefly explain one or two career highlights that make your application stand out from the rest, i.e., second language fluency, willingness to travel or relocate, excellent communication skills via presentations or publications, awards or certifications, etc. Mention that details of your complete history may be found on your resume.
5. If you have stellar references, you may want to mention them in the cover letter. These could be industry leaders, those in government positions related to your career field, or someone who is familiar with the company where you are seeking employment.
6. Tailor your application letters to each different job opening. Avoid using a form letter, and always print a fresh copy on 20-pound bond paper. Sign your name in blue or black ink. Mail your letter and resume, if by post, in a 9″x12″ manila envelope, using correct postage. Don’t use flashy colors or designs to catch a reader’s attention; in the business world, these are usually frowned on.
Re-read your letter carefully before sending to ensure it is error-free. Then wait in confidence for an interview invitation.