How to Write a Cover Letter That Gets Noticed

You've probably heard the old saying that you'll never get a second chance to make a first impression. Nowhere is this more true than in the job application process, as hiring managers usually have to sort through countless resumes before settling on a few candidates to interview. Your cover letter serves as both your introduction to your potential employer and as a sample of your writing skills, so it's crucial that you get it right.

Before You Start Writing

Ask yourself a few questions before you start writing to help organize your thoughts and to make sure you hit all the important points. First, you want to think about who you are addressing. Is it the human resources director of a major company or the office manager of a small company? What are their needs, and how can you fulfill them? What specific qualifications do you have that are important to that person? Instead of trying to sell yourself, think of who you are writing to and how you can solve their problems. Be sure to research the company as much as you can so you can answer these questions well.

Organizing Your Letter

Sketching out a rough outline before you start fleshing out paragraphs will help ensure that your letter flows well from paragraph to paragraph and from point to point. This three-point outline will help you get started:

  1. Introduction. Your first sentence should include the job you are applying for and how you found out about it. Did you come across an advertisement online, or were you encouraged to apply by a specific person? Then, follow with a quick statement of why you want the job and why you want to work for the company. You want to be enthusiastic without going over the top, and keep it brief. For example, "I would enjoy the opportunity to travel that the Sales Manager position provides, and I've been a fan of the widgets made by XYZ company for many years."
  2. Body Paragraphs. Use the next two or three paragraphs to highlight the most important points from your resume that will be relevant to the job. Don't necessarily reach for your greatest achievements if they don't apply. Instead, show how your education and experience meet the requirements of the position. Remember, the cover letter shouldn't simply restate what is already on your resume. Instead, it should complement your resume by expanding on a few relevant points. For example, your experience waiting tables during college obviously gave you customer service experience, but you also mastered the technique of maintaining your composure in stressful situations.
    You can also use these paragraphs to point out anything that isn't typically included on a resume that you think might be helpful for landing an interview. For example, did you attend any individual classes in college that might be helpful? Have you attended any professional enrichment seminars or gatherings? Do you have any personal hobbies or interests that make you uniquely qualified?
  3. Closing Paragraph. Be sure to include an action statement in your closing, such as requesting a phone call to schedule an interview. Mention any documents you are attaching or enclosing, such as a resume, portfolio, or other samples. Be sure to include your phone number, and thank the recipient for his or her consideration.

Before You Send or Print

Take a few minutes to review your letter, and make sure it has addressed the following points:

  • Does the letter represent your best professional writing skills? Avoid any slang or informal styles, and avoid any industry jargon.
  • Is it absolutely free from all spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors? Have at least one other person review the letter to be sure.
  • Have you shown the recipient exactly how you can address their needs?

If you have enough time, set your letter aside for a couple days, and then come back to it. Sometimes it's easier to spot sentences that can be written better and other errors after you've taken some time away.

Make an Impact

If you're mailing a paper resume, print it on high-quality bond paper, and use a good printer. If your home printer isn't up to the task, take the time to have it printed at a commercial printer for a top-quality page. If you're emailing the letter, either paste it directly into the email with no fancy formatting, or attach it as a Word document.

The most important thing to remember about writing a cover letter is to not give the reader an easy reason to cross you off the list. If you remember to focus on the reader, eliminate all errors, and format your letter properly, you'll be putting your best foot forward.

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