Writing the cover letter that gets your résumé noticed
Composing your cover letter
Cover letters should be more than just wrapping paper for your résumé. They should set you apart from other candidates by providing a sense of how you think and your eagerness to work for a particular organization. Most of all, they should give readers a compelling reason to want to interview you, one that includes both your qualifications and the vitality you can bring to a job.
Unlike a résumé, cover letters are narratives. You can use highly descriptive and persuasive sentences to evoke a positive response from your reader. Moreover, this format allows you to incorporate information, which reflects your knowledge of the target company (e.g., its industry, relevant issues, potential opportunities, etc.). The cover letter is an opportunity to provide customized information beyond what’s in your résumé — information that can tweak an employer’s interest in your candidacy.
Like a résumé, a cover letter contains several critical components:
- The heading. Remember to put your full name, address, phone number and e-mail at the top of the page. If your address changes during your job search, send another résumé and cover letter for the position that interests you. HR departments won’t bother to change the information on your first version.
- The first paragraph. This is the introductory section of your cover letter. In the first paragraph, you should state how you learned about the job opening and your reason for sending the employer your résumé. If you’re applying for a specific position, be sure to include that information in the first sentence of your introduction.
- If you’ve researched the company, be sure to mention why you’re interested in it. You will differentiate yourself from the pack by making allusions to the company’s products, philosophy or reputation. Be sincere, and employers will appreciate your interest in their organizations.
- If you know someone at the company, feel free to drop a name — if that person appreciates your work and will speak highly (and unambiguously) of your abilities.
- The second paragraph. Among hiring officials, the buzz word these days is “value offered.” Explain the particular benefits you offer an employer. Not only will it get the employer’s attention, it will distinguish you as a job hunter whose goal is to do the job rather than just get a job. Use this section of your cover letter to discuss your value as an employee over and above the information in your résumé.
- Talk about your transferable skills, such as being a self-starter and having excellent organizational abilities. Cite a specific reason why you’re the ideal candidate for the position, then customize your letter to prove or demonstrate that point.
- Don’t rehash your résumé. Focus instead on two or three qualities that distinguish you most. Also, try to connect these qualities to the position’s key requirements. If you have a particular area of expertise, this is the place to bring it up.
- The closing paragraph. Before concluding your letter, tell the employer you’ll follow up to confirm receipt of your résumé and set up a time for a face-to-face interview. Always assume that an employer will respond positively to your request, and thank him or her in advance for granting the interview.
Consider writing one standard cover letter and then personalizing it as necessary. Your standard letter would include a general description of your skills and abilities. It would also highlight the most marketable aspects of your background.
The primary advantage to writing a standard cover letter is that you only have to write a great letter once. Once you’ve created it, all you will have to do is modify the introduction the next time you want to send your résumé to a prospective employer. Of course, you don’t want the employer to assume that the cover letter is part of a mass mailing campaign. Including the company’s name and the position you’re interested in makes your cover letter seem as though it was written specifically for that prospective employer and his or her company.