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Guide to Writing Effective Cover Letters

Anytime you mail your resume to a potential employer, a cover letter should accompany your resume to serve as an introduction and to interest the employer in learning more about you. Cover letters are written for applications for jobs, to inquire about job openings or to request an interview. Cover letters are one of the most important components of job search correspondence. Many job candidates spend a great deal of time preparing an outstanding resume only to lose out on opportunities due to a hastily prepared cover letter. Develop a draft of a cover letter by following the guidelines in this information sheet. Then have a career counselor review it so you will have a first-class cover letter.

The following tips can help you put together cover letters that will make sure you get noticed.

Cover Letter Tips

¨ Address your letter to a specific person with his or her correct title and business address. Ideally the best person to receive your resume is the person who has the capability to hire you in the department or field of the job you are seeking. Targeting this individual may take some investigative work and a few phone calls. If you are unable to identify the department manager, you can address the letter to the director of personnel or human resources.

¨ Individualize your letter. Highlight your interests in working for this particular organization.

¨ Catch your reader’s attention. In the opening paragraph you will want to stimulate the interest of the employer. Reference the advertisement you are responding to or your knowledge of the company’s products and services. If you have been referred by someone specific, mention the name in the opening paragraph.

¨ Relate your qualifications to the position. In the body of the letter you will want to elaborate how your qualifications, skills and abilities suit the needs of the organization. If you are responding to an advertisement, draw attention to how your background and personal characteristics match the position description. You can choose to highlight experience, knowledge or personal characteristics that demonstrate your qualifications.

¨ Request an interview. Make arrangements for the next step in the process by requesting an interview and advising the readers as to how to get in touch with you.

¨ Bring your cover letter in for a review. Have a professional staff member critique your cover letter to provide you with advice on enhancing your content and form. You can schedule an appointment by stopping by our office in the Lower Level of the Administration Building or by calling (570)208-5874.

Accomplish The Following Objectives When Writing Your Cover Letter:

  • Introduce yourself and clearly define “who” you are and your interest in the position and organization.
  • Highlight your most notable qualifications, experiences, credentials, skills and achievements.
  • Identify the value you can bring to the organization.
  • Capture the reader’s interest in you, your resume, and your availability.
  • Motivate the reader to call and offer you the opportunity to sit for an interview.

The Most Frequently Asked Questions About Cover Letters

2.1. Why is a cover letter necessary?
A cover letter should always accompany your resume. Few employers will seriously consider a resume without a letter. A cover letter tells the employer exactly what kind of job you want to do and tailors your qualifications to that job. Given the screening process, a cover letter may have as few as 20 seconds to grab an employer’s attention. A well written, interesting cover letter that opens a window on your personality and qualifications has a much better chance of helping gain that all-important interview.

2. 2. Should I include references in my cover letter?

Unless an ad specifically requests references, they belong in the interview phase of the job search. Most companies won’t check references until they become seriously interested in hiring a candidate. The one exception is the field of education. These references are typically separate letters sent directly to the employer prior to even being scheduled for an interview.

1. 3. How long should the cover letter be?

Only in the rarest of circumstances should your letter be longer than one page and a bit less than one very full page is best. About four paragraphs should do the trick. Your letter should be not only fairly short, but also concise. Let the employer know that your qualifications match the position requirements. Edit your letter mercilessly. Follow the journalist’s credo: Write tight! Cut out all unnecessary words and jargon. Then go back and do it again. Apply the kiss formula: keep it straight forward and simple. Use short words that tell your message more effectively. Make one major point and support it in different ways.

2. 4. What’s the difference between a letter of application and a letter of inquiry or prospecting letter?

A letter of application is written in response to a specific job opening you become aware of through an advertisement or personal referral. A letter of inquiry or prospecting letter is written when you are not aware of a specific job opening but are interested in inquiring about opportunities with an organization. The primary difference between the two types of letters is in the wording of the opening paragraph. Samples of both types of letters are available in the Office of Career Planning and Placement.

Dynamic Cover Letters

Some effective techniques to add pizazz to your cover letter:

¨ You can visually call attention to your qualifications by underlining them, boldfacing them, or indenting them in a list with bullets.

¨ You can quantify by telling the employer how many employees you have supervised, how many customers you handled, how much money you saved the company, and most importantly, by what percentage you increased productivity.

¨ You can demonstrate your creativity and potential for innovation by revealing one or two ideas for how you would improve the employer’s operation or bottom line.

¨ If using paper correspondence, use good quality paper measuring 81/2” by 11”. It should be the same color and texture as your resume. Preferred colors are white, ivory, or light beige.

¨ Use the language of the employer. Reflect your knowledge of your field of preparation by including terminology in your descriptions of your qualifications and desire to work for this particular organization.

¨ Highlight, but do not duplicate information included in your resume.

¨ Show that you are a match for the organization. Demonstrate knowledge of the company and its services and products. Match your qualifications to the goals of the organization.

¨ If communicating by email, the same rules apply to those of written correspondence, including the use of proper grammar, a formal approach, “tight” writing, and excellent content.

Common Cover Letter Mistakes

Do Not:

¨ Address the letter to “Dear Personnel Director,” “To Whom It May Concern,” “Dear Sir or Madam” (or worse, “Dear Sirs”) instead of a named individual. “To Whom It May Concern” shows the employer that you were not concerned enough to find out the name of the person with the hiring power. The one exception is if you are answering an ad and the name of the contact person is not listed.

¨ Tell the employer what the company can do for you instead of what you can do for the company. This mistake is particularly common among new college graduates and other inexperienced jobseekers. In most cases, employers are in business to make a profit. They want to know what you can do for their bottom line, not what they can do to fulfill your career dreams.

¨ Leave the ball in the employer’s court. Too many cover letters end with a line like this: “If you are interested in my qualifications, please call me.” Proactive cover letters, in which the jobseeker requests an interview and promises to follow up with a phone call, are more effective.

¨ Mass produce the same letter to all companies. You may build on a uniform base, but personalize each letter and include at least one paragraph specifically stating your knowledge of the company and how you can meet its needs. Nothing turns off an employer faster than getting a letter that looks like the same one everyone else is receiving.

COVER LETTER SKELETON

Street Address

City, State, Zip Code

Phone Number

E-mail Address

Current Date

Employer’s name

Title

Department (if applicable)

Organization

Street Address

City, State, Zip

(E-mail may be added)

Greeting – Dear Mr./Miss/Ms./Dr. followed by the individual’s last name:

Introduction – Tell the reader why you are writing. If you are applying for an advertised position, state the job and how you found out about it. If you are inquiring about potential positions, mention a functional area that interests you. If you are writing to request an information interview, state that in this opening paragraph. This is also where you will mention the name of individuals who may have referred you to this organization. This paragraph should not exceed more than 2 or 3 sentences. Use the 5 W’s in the first sentence. Summarize 5 things the prospective employer should know about you – who, what, where, when and why.

Body – (The sales pitch) The body of the cover letter is crucial as it must convince the prospective employer that you are the best person for the job. Demonstrate through use of concrete examples that you possess the skills and experiences the organization is seeking. Refer the reader to your enclosed resume. Highlight your qualifications in relation to the company/organization. The number of paragraphs depends on your background (different from a resume in that a resume summarizes and a cover letter highlights). Use what you consider to be your most important accomplishments most directly related to your job objective. You can also highlight your strong interest in working for this particular company by demonstrating your knowledge of the company in one of the middle paragraphs. If you know any particulars about the company to which you are writing (for example core issues, challenges, market opportunities, products, services), be sure to address those items in your cover letter. Draw attention to the good match between your qualifications and the job requirements.

Close – Ask for an interview. Use a positive approach. Tell the prospective employer where and when to reach you or tell the employer when you will be calling to arrange for an appointment. Also, express appreciation to the reader for the taking the time to consider your request.

Salutation – Sincerely yours, Yours truly, etc.

Sign name

Typename

Enclosure: (Indicates attachments, i.e. your resume)


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