November 10, 2007

The Basics ... Creating a cover letter

Now that you've done an awesome resume, it's time to do a cover letter. But what is a cover letter you might wonder?

Well, in a nutshell, it's a short introduction to the employer that let's them know who you are and some of your skills and experiences that you'd bring to the company. Most are about 3 -4 short paragraphs.

Here's a sample cover letter that would accompany Joe Smith's resume (see previous post).

Okay, so here are some things to keep in mind:

1) Make sure you put your name and address at the top, on the left-hand side. Doing so makes the letter look more professional.

2) Put the date. Again, it makes the letter look more professional. Plus, it lets the employer know that this is a recent resume/cover letter - not something you printed 2 years ago!

3) Get the name and position of the person who will be getting your application. And make sure you put the name of the company and the address. If you can't get the name, you can put "Human Resources" or "Hiring Manager" but try your best to find out the person's name.

4) Open the letter with either Mr. or Ms. and the last name of the person you are giving your application to. Don't use that person's full name - just make it like Mr. Smith or Ms. Jones. Again, if you don't know the person's name, you can use "To Whom It May Concern:" or "Dear Hiring Manager:" instead. I personally wouldn't use the "Dear Sir/Madam:" line because it makes it sound like the person reading your application is old - and that could be offensive!

5) In the first paragraph, state your the name of the company and job you are applying for, and how you found out about the position (i.e. in the store window, from a friend, etc.). A tip: if you found out about the job from a friend or family member who works at that company, you can mention their name if you'd like.

6) In the second paragraph, detail your current education status. For students, I find this is the best way to tell a potential employer that you can only work part-time without explicitly stating "I can only work part-time." Plus, if you've won any awards or commendations, or been part of a school club or team, feel free to list some of them.

7) In the third paragraph, talk about your most recent (or most relevant) job experience. List some of your duties or the skills you learned. At the end of the paragraph, let the employer know that this experience or skills will be beneficial to their company. And if you've never worked before, list volunteer experience instead. Or if you've never even volunteered, go into detail about some the skills you've developed (i.e. your excellent communication skills developed through written assignments and class presentations)

8) In the fourth paragraph, let the employer know that you've attached your resume, and how they can get in touch with you. And make sure you thank them for taking the time to read/review your application.

9) End the letter with "Sincerely," and then sign your name.

Keep in mind that a cover letter should be tailored for whatever works best for you and the job you're applying for. And know that 3 -4 paragraphs is just a suggestion - in fact, I often see applicants combine paragraphs 2 and 3 together so that the letter is shorter and easier to read.

And so really, it's all up to you - a cover letter is a great way to make yourself stand out from the rest of the applicants.

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