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Writing a Great Cover Letter

The cover letter you submit with your resume may be the only chance you have to be considered for a position. So, you need to know how to write a cover letter that can make you a winner in the employment race. To understand how to write a cover letter that can help you get to the next step in the employment process, the interview, it helps to consider how your cover letter is used by human resources or the hiring supervisor.

Depending on the job market, a company may receive several to several hundred resumes for a position. That’s a lot of paper to review. The easier you make it for a reviewer to quickly believe that you can do the job, want to do the job and will do the job, the better off you are against your competition. How well you write your cover letter is the secret to getting favorable attention. Remember that the reviewer may only have time to skim your cover letter, so make your positive points stand out by using bullets or selected bold type. If the reviewer does not find what they are looking for in your cover letter in less than a minute, he or she may never even read your entire resume.

Get their attention. If you are applying for an advertised position, the first sentence of your cover letter should state the position title and your interest in being considered for that opening. If your cover letter is a general inquiry about possible openings, again state that clearly in the first sentence. Follow the identification of the position for which you are applying with one or two sentences that add reasons you should be seriously considered. For example, if you are applying for a position as an accounts payable clerk, mention that you have college credits in accounting and two years experience in a similar position. Unless you have been referred by someone that matters to the reviewer, such as a current manager or employee at the company, do not waste space telling the reviewer how you found out about the position.

Sell yourself – how to write the body text of your cover letter. Paragraph two should answer the reviewer’s questions about you. Offer compelling evidence that you can do the job. Before writing this paragraph, find out as much information as you can about the position and tasks. If the employer provided a job description, that’s great. Use those words paired with your experience to overcome their initial skepticism about your ability to do the job. If you have only a job title to work with, use job search tools to gather typical tasks for that type of position. USAJobs offers descriptions of typical tasking for all levels of proficiency in various job categories.

Tell them you want the job. The reviewer’s second question requires demonstrating that you want to do the job. How you write your cover letter in paragraph three meets this need. You should use this paragraph to show that you have researched the organization and want to support its mission and objectives. It is important to be specific here not just offer broad generalizations. Do your homework by reading press releases, blogs, and company posted materials. Reference that information in paragraph three.

Finalize. Finally, complete paragraph four – closing the cover letter – with a statement reminding the reviewer of the position you are applying for, your interest and qualifications, and your desire to move to the next step – the interview.

Do’s and Don’ts in writing your cover letter:

  • Place contact information in the header above the salutation
  • Keep the length to one, single-spaced page
  • Keep the words formal and professional; avoid jargon or colloquial phrases
  • Use active rather than passive voice
  • List accomplishments not tasks
  • Refer to your resume; do not repeat it
  • Thank the reviewer for their time and consideration
  • Close with “Sincerely” or “Regards”
  • Check spelling, punctuation and grammar
  • Print on high quality paper unless you are submitting an on-line application

Read more cover letter writing tips.

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