Cover letters are one of the essentials of the job application process. The cover letter (the letter that accompanies your résumé), gets your résumé to the people responsible for filling the position and serves as your introduction to those people. The cover letter is important to both the employer and the employee.
Each cover letter has specific parts that must be included. Each part should be brief, accurate and persuasive. Employers must sift through hundreds, even thousands, of applications and can only devote a few minutes to each. Yet they must choose the best candidates from that sifting process.
If at all possible, address your letter to a specific person. Contact the company and find out the name and title of the person who is in charge of hiring for that position. Verify the spelling of that person's name, and if necessary, his or her gender. While this is not always possible and you may have to address it to the human resources department or something similar, you will get far better results by addressing your letter to a real person. For one thing, it will ensure that your application will get sent to the right person.
"Jayne Smythe, Manager, Big-Mart Corporation," rather than "Jane Smith, Big-Mart Corporation."
"To: Human Resources Manager"
"Dear Sirs" or "Dear Big Box Corporation."
Your first paragraph should state the position you are seeking and how you learned about it. State what credentials you are including with the letter (résumé, portfolio samples, references, etc.).
"I am writing to apply for the editorial assistant job posted in Sunday's Oakland Press. As requested, I have enclosed my résumé and some examples of my work."
"I read you might be hiring editors. Thank God you found me!" (An actual candidate opened a letter this way.)
The next paragraph should summarize your background, targeting your skills and experiences to match as closely as possible the skills listed in the job description. Always be positive and assertive. Avoid words like "no" and "not."
"My experience more than meets the job description. As you can see from the enclosed résumé, I have managed several retail stores. My duties included staffing, budgeting and loss prevention."
"I've never run a retail store before, but I have shopped in many of them and I think I know what it takes to run a store."
There should also be another brief paragraph indicating why you are the ideal person for the position. It could list particular results or awards that you have achieved or facts about your professional life that particularly suit you to the company. This paragraph should answer the question, "Why are you the very best candidate for this position?" Do not brag, inflate or lie about your skills, however -- those misstatements can get you hired but may ruin your chances for future jobs.
"Under my management, our store increased sales by 76 percent, despite a faltering economy. I was humbly honored to receive the corporation's Employee of the Year award in 2007, largely based on how our staff coordinated the Hurricane Katrina Relief Program, which generated a great deal of positive exposure for our store."
"I think it would be fun to work for you. I understand you have excellent benefits and vacation time."
The final paragraph should merely ask for an interview. You may want to state your intention to contact the employer in the following week to answer any questions. If you make such a statement, follow up as promised. Employers remember such consistency.
"I am very interested in the position and am convinced that I have the skills you are seeking. I will call you on Tuesday, May 24, to answer any questions you may have. But please, don't hesitate to contact me if you have any concerns about my application."
"Plese hire me for the job. I really need the money bad."
Lastly, thank the employer for considering your application. She has to wade through many of them and she took a few precious minutes to consider you.
"Thank you for considering my application. Best wishes on your company's continued success."
"Hope to hear from you."
Always use plain paper without any fancy borders or graphics.
When submitting an application online, avoid using bullets or other special characters as they may not transmit clearly.
You may contact the employer in about one week to ensure receipt of your cover letter and again about once a week to check the status of the hiring process. However, do not call or email more than weekly or else risk being considered a pest.