Six Steps to a Great Cover Letter

A cover letter is an employer's "first impression" of you. Cover letters are extremely important tools that introduce, repeat, and reinforce resumes. Use your cover letter to discuss your skills, experiences, and desires. Keep in mind that the best cover letter is a personalized sales pitch for you and that writing a good cover letter requires a lot of time and thought——make yours scream "You want to meet me to discuss this position!"

I. Use Interviewer's Name and Job Title

Find the name of the person who can hire you or recommend you to the person who does the hiring for the company. Tailor and personalize your cover letter to this person for the specific job that you want. Address your cover letter to this person, including his/her job title, be sure you spell the name, title and organization correctly.

II. Follow Standard Format

Use this standard cover letter format that employers are accustomed to reading. Example:

Your street address
Your city, state, and zip code
Your telephone number (including area code)
Your E-mail address
2 SKIPPED LINES
Date (write out the date)
2 SKIPPED LINES
Their complete name and title (use two lines if long)
Their street address (use two lines if long)
Their city, state, and zip code
2 SKIPPED LINES
Salutation (Dear Mr. Smith:)
1 SKIPPED LINE
Introductory paragraph (see Spark Interest)
1 SKIPPED LINE
Content paragraph(s) (see Sell Your Skills and Qualifications)
1 SKIPPED LINE
Closing paragraph (see Take Action)
2 SKIPPED LINES
Closing (Sincerely,)
4 SKIPPED LINES
Your full name
1 SKIPPED LINE
Resume enclosure notation (Enclosure)

III. Win the 30-Second-Sort

Grab their attention! An employer may have a person quickly scan a stack of 200 or more cover letters with resumes, discarding all but 10-20 for the interviewer to review and decide if an interview should be scheduled. This is sometimes called is the "30-second sort." How does the screener decide which to keep and which to discard? How can you increase your chance of getting to the interviewer? Here are three tips to help your cover letter win the 30-second sort.

Tip 1—Use the Power of Attention Drawing Design

The layout and design of your cover letter works for you or against you in the first five to eight seconds. Use:

  • bullets
  • indented lists
  • ALL-CAPS
  • bolding
  • underlining

Tip 2—Use the Employer's Key-Need Words

In the job advertisement or description you will see key words or descriptive phrases that define the employer's specific needs and the skills that the employer is seeking to meet these needs. These words can be called "key-need" words.

Analyze the job advertisement or job description to identify and define the employer's key-need words. Prioritize and use these words in the employer's order of importance or presentation. Utilize the key-need in your cover letter and highlight them by using all-caps and bolding or underlining.

Tip 3—Use Your Common Sense

Don't overuse attention-grabbing design features. Look at your cover letter with and without the features and see which letter you would read first.

When filling out forms, be sure to fill in each part—use N/A (not applicable) for items that do not apply to you to make the form look complete.

IV. Spark Interest—Letter Opening

Show enthusiasm in your introductory paragraph by using interest-verbs and adjectives. These words help your letter gain attention and interest. In the introductory paragraph, state why you are writing, what you want, and who referred you or how you decided to contact the person or company.

V. Sell Your Skills and Qualifications—Letter Body

Fan the reader's attention in the body of your letter with content that explains and convinces them that you are qualified for this job. The purpose of these paragraphs is to persuade the employer that you match their needs. Change their interest into desire by presenting fact after fact using key-need words and action verbs.

  • Tell why you want this type of work and specifically, why you want to work for this organization.
  • Present your most powerful selling points and connect them to the employer's needs.
  • Point out your relevant work and education.
  • Keep your writing concise and brief.
  • Strive to project confidence.

Suggestions:

  • Use key-need words (maximum of 3) in bold, indented headings for your main paragraphs.
  • Use each paragraph to describe your skills and abilities that match the employer's key-need words.

VI. Take Action—Letter Conclusion

Change their desire into action in your closing paragraph by stating the actions or steps you intend to take to get the interview date. Be sure to explicitly state your expectations.

  • Reaffirm what a good match you are for the job. Use words like confident, feel, believe, seems, could or appears in this first sentence.
    Examples:
    • My background seems to be a good match for this position.
    • I believe my skills and experience can be a benefit your company.
    • My selling experience and closing skills could be an asset to your company.
    • My training and experience appear to match your job requirements.
    • If given the chance, I am confident that I could meet your product development needs.
  • Optional (but recommended)——State the action you plan to take. If you know the company name and phone number state when you will contact the employer at "the end of this week" or "next week." This is better than stating a specific day, because if you forget to call on one day you still have other days to professionally follow through. Announcing your plans to call also gets you around the secretary, because you can say, "She is expecting my call."
    Examples:
    • I hope to speak with you and will call the week of the 10th to...
    • I will be in Seattle around the 15th, and will call you prior to that date to schedule a meeting. I look forward to discussing...
    • The opportunity to meet with you would be a privilege. With this in view, I will call you next week.
  • State the response you want and state it with anticipation! (Anticipation Words)
    Examples:
    • I look forward to an interview.
    • I would like to meet with you and discuss how my experience and abilities match your job requirements.
  • Tell them how to contact you (address above or restate your telephone number here).
  • Optional——Thank them for his/her time and consideration of your application.