THE COVER LETTER
A pristine cover letter is the second step to impressing a prospective employer. Well, technically, it’s the first; while the cover letter serves to introduce you and your resume to a recruiting agent, it should never be written before your resume is ready to go. Your cover letter may give employers a look closer look at your individuality, character and expertise, but it also helps answer questions about your resume and fill in any gaps before an interview. To write a good cover letter your resume needs to be as familiar to you as the tone of your mother’s voice when you’ve done something wrong — it should haunt your every living moment.
STEP ONE: FONT & FORMATTING
Formatting tips for a resume also apply to the cover letter. Make sure to use an easy-to-read 12-point font: Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri or Helvetica are good choices. Margins should be the traditional one-inch, and your sentences should be single-spaced (usually, this is how most word processing documents are setup by default, so don’t worry about trying to figure out how to get traditional margins). There should be a space between each paragraph. You do not need to indent each paragraph’s first line, but if you do make sure you remain consistent – either indent all or indent none.
These formatting tips work for a traditional cover letter. However, make sure to read the requirements for your job application: some recruiters will require specific formatting for their cover letters. If you don’t follow directions potential employers will assume you are lazy and you may not make it to the second screening.
Also make sure to be aware of the audience of the business or organization you are applying to. A professional format is always necessary, no matter what job you apply to, but what a professional format consists of may change from job to job. A paralegal position at a law firm may require a traditional cover letter format, as outlined above, while a graphic designing position may require some extra innovation.
STEP TWO: BASIC ORGANIZATION
Your cover letter should have a heading, an introduction, a body where you make your argument, and a closing. Your heading should read as follows:
First Name Last Name
Company Contact Name
Position in Company
You should always try to address your cover letter to a specific person, preferably the recruitment authority. Generally, the job advertisement will tell you who to address your application to. If it doesn’t, call the organization or go to their website to find out who, specifically, deals with employment for the business. If you still cannot get the information, simply address your letter to the recruitment officers/offices: “Dear Recruitment Official.”
Your salutation should be simple, and should end with the business-traditional semi-colon (not a comma or a colon): “Dear Mr./Mrs./Ms. Last Name;”. If you are not sure about the recruiter’s gender, simply use the full name without a title.
Your introduction is part of the body of the letter, but not part of your argument. The introduction should tell a recruiting officer who you are, why you are writing, where you heard about the position and why you are interested in the position. You may wish to briefly mention relevant academic and work experience at this point, as a lead in to your argument. Showing a recruiter that you have the skills the job asks for early on is a good way to transition into heavier arguments.
STEP THREE: WRITING
The main portion of your cover letter should be the argument. You are not writing to an organization simply to notify them of your existence – you are writing to prove to them that you are the employee they are looking for, and to persuade them to hire you. Your argument must be powerful, relevant and to-the-point. You should use your resume as a reference point in your letter; cite your resume in your cover letter as you would cite a scientific document in a research paper. Also make sure you know exactly what the business/organization is looking for in a potential employee and what the business/organization stands for and does.
Your argument should contain a description of relevant skills that you possess, and that the job requires, and reasons why the business would benefit from your work. Use an upbeat but professional tone. Make sure to use strong reasoning; if you have a skill you think would help the business, do not simply tell them it would help, tell them why it would help, and what that skill would allow you to do – specifically – for the company. Point out pertinent information from your resume that would appeal to an employer.
Here are some great cover letter samples from Harvard Law.
STEP FOUR: CLOSING
Your closing should reiterate briefly why you are an exceptional candidate for the job in question. Thank the reader for his or her time and consideration. Occasionally you may feel that the position you are applying for requires a forceful, active personality. If this is the case, feel free to inform the reader that you will be contacting him or her on a specific future date to discuss your application further. This is a very direct approach, and shows initiative. If you add this to your closing, make sure to contact the reader on the date specified! Be punctual and be prepared.
STEP FIVE: BEFORE SENDING YOUR LETTER
Proofread! Ask a friend or family member to read over the cover letter for errors in spelling and grammar. Make sure your argument is concise and effective. If the job you are advertising for asks you to answer specific questions in your letter, make sure you have. Ensure your answers fulfill the requirements of the question.
Keep an eye out for the next article of this series: What If I Can’t Find a Job?