With the power to make or break your job-hunt, the cover letter accompanying your resume may well be the most important tool you will use during your search for employment. On the other hand, a poorly written letter communicates a lot to the reader, but unfortunately, the message that is sent is not the one that you want to transmit. Send a poorly organized cover letter that looks unprofessional in form and design or that is filled with grammatical, punctuation, and spelling errors, and you send a message that you are an inarticulate and disorganized individual who is unable to communicate clearly and concisely.
The cover letter is, after all, the first communication that you will have with a potential employer. The reader will inevitably form an opinion about you from what is presented in this document. Given the importance of first impressions, it is obviously in your best interest as a job hunter to spend both times and thought writing a clear, concise, and attention-grabbing cover letter. Even if you have the most stunning qualifications and accomplishments and have spent hours, or even days, crafting an impressive and high-impact resume that communicates these, if your cover letter is poorly written, this resume may not even be read.
Likewise, a resume that arrives on an employer’s desk unaccompanied by a cover letter will likely end up directly in the garbage. The failure to send a cover letter conveys to the employer that you are an unsavvy candidate, unfamiliar with even standard business practices.
Writing the letter
Step 1: It is important that your cover letter is visually attractive. Assure this by using quality paper and envelopes. Many individuals use paper that matches their resume in order to achieve balance and continuity. If you have crafted your resume on a computer, you may wish to use a matching letterhead for both documents. If paper matching your resume is unavailable, it is acceptable to use personal stationery or a white “laid” or “linen” paper in 24-lb bond or higher. Pay special attention to details, including the print quality. Laser or ink jet printing is preferable.
Step 2: Unless you have used personal stationery or letterhead matching your resume, begin your letter by typing the return address, excluding your name, in the upper left or right corner. The date appears next, on the left margin, two lines under your address. Apply two more lines and type the full names of the addressee, apply another line and type his or her title, another line, and the company name, and finally, under this, the address. The salutation should begin two lines under the address and should be in the form of “Dear Mr. …” or “Dear Ms. …” In business correspondence, you should always use a colon after the salutation rather than a comma.
It is essential that you take the time to personalize each letter in this way. A letter addressed to “Whom it May Concern” will almost always be tossed aside. Do a little investigative work to learn the name and title of the person who has the hiring power in the company. Many times, you can obtain this information by simply making a two-minute phone call to the company or by spending a little time in the library. If, despite your best efforts, you cannot obtain the name of the hiring authority, try “Dear Hiring Manager:”.
Step 3: The body of the letter comes next. Begin by thinking of your cover letter as a personal marketing document. As with any other marketing document, the purpose is to grab the reader’s attention while emphasizing the most attractive benefits of the product or service. In this case, YOU are the product or service, and the message that you want to convey is that of your unique value to the employer. In order to do this, your letter must promote you to the employer by highlighting your achievements and accomplishments.
Step 4: The closing of your letter should appear two lines under the body. Align this with your return address. This may be either on the right or left margin, depending on the style you chose. A simple “Sincerely,” will usually be fine. Under this, apply four lines and type your name. Make certain that after the letter is printed, you insert your signature above this.