How-to: The Cover Letter

I love to bounce ideas off of my friends-both in the personal and in the professional realm. When Aimee was chatting w/ me about writing a cover letter, Jamie suggested the idea that I write a “how to write an effective cover letter” blog post. I am in no way, shape or form an “expert” but I have written my fair share of cover letters for different positions, jobs and internships and decided to take Jamie’s suggestion. Annnd here it goes:

The purpose of a cover letter to to explain WHY you are submitting a resume and is an introduction tool between you and the employer, internship coordinator or whoever you are writing to. The cover letter allows you to EXPAND on the skills and experience in your resume and is your time to sell yourself. You want your cover letter to make the person reading interested in contacting and/or interviewing you. One main thing to remember is the cover letter focus is on WHAT YOU CAN GIVE THE COMPANY, not what you want from them. Some quick tips:

  • No, no, no grammatical errors. Ever. Proofread your cover letter and have a classmate/professor/someone other than you reread to make sure there are no simple errors, including spelling and sentence structure.
  • Find out who is responsible for hiring and address the cover letter directly to them. “To Whom It May Concern” works, but directly addressing it proves you want the job and can take the time to research the company in detail.
  • Make sure you explicitly include what position you’re applying for, how you found out about the position and why you are interested in the company. Try to keep this to 2-3 sentences!
  • No “one size fits all” cover letter. Each job you are applying for needs a different, personalized cover letter because each job has a different description. You can include the same info, but make sure it is phrased in a way that relates to that particular company/job.
  • Always include your cover letter! Include cover letter in applications with your resume, even when it’s not requested initially.

THE BASICS Begin the cover letter with your name, address, contact information at the top either centered (similar to a resume format-example here) or in the top corner. Personally, I usually put my contact information in the top right hand corner, center the date and address it on the left-hand side (example here) Many people choose to left-align all information (example: here) Regardless of where you are placing this info, keep the cover letter to ONE PAGE and make sure you always include: your name, address, phone number, email and the date. Additionally, include the company name and address and then: “Dear [direct Dr./Mr/Ms./Mrs. first and last name of whoever is responsible for hiring]”

WHAT KIND? Two types of cover letters for two separate purposes:

  1. “Cover letter to apply” where you are applying for a certain position with an organization or company. This is in response to a job posting and the type of cover letter where you expand upon experiences that relate to the position you’re applying for.
  2. “Cover letter to inquire” [more information] This is a letter asking about potential openings that you are not yet aware of or haven’t been publicized.

GET ACTIVE. You should be using active verbs to describe your experiences, skills and accomplishments not only your resume, but on your cover letter! Expand on the active words you used in your resume and relate them to specifically to the job description.Now is your time to go more in-depth and explain HOW and WHY you fit the requirements and would the perfect candidate. Don’t overuse the words “My, me, mine, I” blah blah blah. The job of the cover letter is to take the active verbs and explain how you will be an asset to that particular company.

Example of ACTIVE words you could use on resume/cover letter

WHAT ELSE? The cover letter is also a good time to expand on skills and attributes you can bring to the job environment that you wouldn’t necessarily post on a resume (read my “What Isn’t on the Resume” post here) This includes, but isn’t limited to: listening skills, accountability, teamwork, responsibility, multi-tasking, creativity, and so on.

WRAPPING UP. When concluding your cover letter, don’t forget to say thank you for the opportunity to apply and for their time and consideration. Mine currently says, “I’ve included my resume with this cover letter and would be more than happy to put you in contact with references. I look forward to hearing from you.” It’s essential to really prove that you want to be in contact with them. You could also say, “I will be following up with you in the next week.” Being proactive is always a good thing.

Whatever you may be applying for, the role of the cover letter is to convey why you are an asset to the organization and what you can bring to the table. Highlight and expand on what you’ve included in your resume and other personal skills and traits you have that you can bring to this work environment. Most likely, you are completely qualified for the position you’re applying for and now you just need to express why and how to the employer. Good luck!

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