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A Well-Written Cover Letter Sets You Apart
A cover letter allows you to encapsulate everything that's in your adjoining resume packet, including your CV, work samples, links and letters of recommendation. In short, it provides a snapshot of the highlights the reader will find enclosed, and when written with a savvy eye to detail, can entice the reviewer to delve deeper into your portfolio. For working moms, cover letters also provide a vehicle for explaining any gaps in your resume, part-time stints or even years removed from the workforce for child rearing. Always put a positive spin on these topics, emphasizing your excitement about reentering the workforce, expanding your professional horizons and forging ahead with your career.
The Necessity of a Cover Letter
While there’s no hard-and-fast rule that cover letters are required to apply for a job (unless specified in an employment listing), they do offer applicants an advantage. The cover letter is where you can stand out from the crowd of other applicants and resumes flooding a hiring manager’s desk or inbox. A cover letter also demonstrates you’re taking the job search seriously and not simply sending your resume to dozens of employers hoping to find a landing spot; rather, you’re targeting companies you feel are a good fit.
Are cover letters necessary for a job interview? Unless specifically requested by the employer, you don't need a cover letter, but they do serve as calling cards for making a professional first impression.
Are cover letters required for different fields? The more professional the position, the greater the need for a cover letter. It's especially important if you're applying for a job that requires business correspondence or other regular forms of communication as part of your job duties.
Cover Letter Structure
If you’re sending or delivering a hard copy of your resume, a cover letter should be the document on top. Print it on letterhead or high-quality stationary and make sure the header includes your name, address, phone number and email address. If you have an online portfolio or work samples of any kind, include the link to that as well. If you’re submitting a letter via email, include your pertinent contact information in a signature block inserted below your name after closing the letter.
Online applications: Online job applications typically give you the option of cutting and pasting a cover letter into the body of the application, or allowing you to attach it as a "supporting" or "other" document. You can attach a Word document or a PDF file. If you're simply emailing an application, the body of your email will serve as your cover letter while your resume should be the attachment.
Elements of a Good Cover Letter
A strong cover letter should be addressed to a specific person in an organization, rather than to an anonymous department head.
Introduction: The opening of your cover letter should clearly state the reason for contact.
Example: “I'm writing today to apply for your open accounting manager position.”
The opening can also include an enticement or reference to give it some pop.
Example: “I was very excited to learn from a colleague that you’re looking to fill your accounting manager position.”
Overview of qualifications: While your cover letter isn't the place to go into great detail about your background, you should summarize highlights and let the reader know more can be found in the body of your resume.
Example: “As you’ll see from my enclosed resume, I’ve been working as a CPA for the past 10 years, primarily in large corporate offices, but also as an independent contractor.”
Highlighted attributes: Just as you encapsulate your qualifications, provide a brief overview of the qualities that make you a good employee.
Example: “I believe you will find me to be detail oriented, dedicated and customer-service oriented.”
Summarized close: Wrap up your cover letter by noting what is contained in your application submission attachments.
Example: Enclosed, please find my CV, letters of recommendation, sample accounting spreadsheets and performance evaluations from my last two employers. If I can provide you with any other information about myself or my work history, please let me know. I look forward to hearing from you.”
Other Cover Letter “Tricks”
Name dropping: If someone has referred you for a job or you have a business connection in common, feel free to reference the fact in a professional manner.
“Jim Kline, who is a retail client of yours, is my mentor. He thought I would be a good fit for your company and suggested I reach out and introduce myself.”
“My colleague June Smith worked with your company for five years and had nothing but great things to say about your integrity and professionalism.”
Customize Your Letter: Make sure your letter fits the business you’re sending it to rather than sounding like a generic one-size-fits-all approach. Even if you’re working from a basic cover letter template, customize it so it sounds personal. You can do this by noting the company name or pointing out something specific you like about the organization. If there’s a specific reason you’re attracted to the position, point to that as well.
Example: “I’ve been coming to Shop Safe Supermarket since I was a child, and I always had great memories of how nice the cashiers and customer service clerks were to kids.”
Example: "I recently read about how the company was named one of the best places to work in the metro area, and I would love to be associated with an organization that places that much value on its employees."
Example: I appreciate the fact that the company has long been a supporter of the March of Dimes, a cause near and dear to my heart. I want to work for a business that places such great emphasis on giving back to the community."
Any extra, personal comments you can add to your cover letter will help set you apart and increase your chances for landing the job.
Lisa McQuerrey has been a business writer since 1987. In 1994, she launched a full-service marketing and communications firm. McQuerrey's work has garnered awards from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the International Association of Business Communicators and the Associated Press. She is also the author of several nonfiction trade publications, and, in 2012, had her first young-adult novel published by Glass Page Books.