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How to Write a Cover Letter

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Writing a Killer Cover Letter

Applying for and landing a job takes time and effort. A person needs to put his best foot forward so that he stands out against all of the competition.

In addition to the actual resume, having a well written and professional cover letter will assist in getting that ideal job. The goal of the letter is to introduce oneself, get the employer interested and give him a reason to review the resume.

Electronic Correspondence

With the advent of the internet and email, the method in which people apply for job and communicate with prospective employers has drastically changed. In the past, the only method of getting one's resume and cover letter to the employer was through the mail or by dropping off these papers in person.

Now that a good deal of job applying and communication is done online, the format is different. However, that does not mean that one no longer needs to be professional and have things in a proper layout when doing this electronically.

When it comes to sending a cover letter through email, there are two main options. The first option would be to put the cover letter in the body of the email and then attach the resume and possibly the references to the email.

Emailing a Cover Letter

The format of the email is not exactly the same as if it was a separate document. The basic or default settings for the email composition are best to use.

In the body of the email, one does not need to have a return address at the top of the email as one would in a letter. Having this here and right justified only looks awkward in an email.

A better place for the contact information would be at the end of the email. This should include the following information: First and last name, mailing address, contact phone number, email address

Regardless of the specific situation, whatever information is listed should be viable and checked frequently. This is especially true for the email and phone numbers. The phone number that is listed needs to have an answering machine or voice mail that plays a respectable message.

Additional Email Tips

If this is a home number, family members should be instructed to take concise messages and pass this along to you quickly. If the number listed is a cell phone, this should be answered politely every time. Being attentive and prompt to messages and calls is best.

The subject line of the email will reflect the position that is being inquired about. This includes proper capitalization as well. Correct capitalization and punctuation should also be used throughout the body of the email. When finishing the letter, the closing salutation and your first and last name are used as you would in a hard copy letter.

Proper Attachments

A frustrating thing for an employer would be to receive a cover letter or resume that is difficult to open or one that is formatted poorly on the computer. Having the letter in a popular and commonplace program will alleviate this. Some employers will specify the format that is preferred.

If applying for multiple jobs, a time saving step would be to have the same cover letter or template saved in several formats. These would include doc, PDF and text files. Since converting files can change things, a document that includes a number of odd characters or formats will not translate well.

This is most often seen when lines or things such as unique bullet points are used in a document. Keeping the letter simple will help things translate into other formats more simply.

Hard Copy Letters

Traditionally, this is the format that is used for cover letters and resumes. The paper and the presentation are almost as important as the actual words that are on the paper. When it comes to the paper, a heavier stock that is specifically for resumes is ideal.

This will come in a number of different colors. The paper does not necessarily need to be white, but should not be too vivid or bright of a color. While using something flashy will make it stand out among the rest, it may send the wrong message. Traditional colors such as off-white, gray, and cream are best.

A paper that has a simple marbled effect or one that is slightly patterned can be used as well. Paper can also include a watermark and this is certainly acceptable. The watermark is generally not too noticeable and will not be an issue when the employer photocopies the paper. Many of the higher quality papers will come with a watermark.

Mailing Tips

Along with the cover letter paper, the resume and the mailing envelope should be of the same type. If including a number of papers in the envelope, it is often a nice touch to mail everything in a larger envelope. One that is 9" x 12" will keep the papers flat and they will not need to be folded.

This will give the employer a clean copy of the cover letter and resume. If you do not have the best handwriting, the address on the envelope can be printed from a computer for a good presentation. If a larger envelope will not feed through a printer, the use of printing mailing labels is acceptable. Finally, having tasteful postage stamps is preferred over something that may be considered cute or even controversial. Simple stamps are best.

Types of Letters

Depending on the situation, there are three main types of cover letters. Each one has a specific purpose, so the right letter should be for the right situation. The three types of letters are: - Inquiry letter - Application letter - Networking letter

Inquiry letter

An inquiry letter is done when there is not a specific position available. This type of letter can be done when there is a particular company that one is interested in. This will put your resume in the hands of the prospective employer. When there is a position that opens up, your letter and resume will hopefully be on the top of the pile. For this letter, the beginning should state basic interests.

With such a letter, it is wise to check with the company as to their specifics on applicants and how long applications and information will be kept on file. Some companies will keep the paperwork for several months while others will not keep this if there is not a specific position that is open.

Checking with the Human Resources department is acceptable as long as this is not viewed as overbearing. Calling to ask about cover letter and resume is allowable as long as it fits into the policies of the company.

Application Letter

When there is a specific position that is open, this letter will state one's intentions and help to highlight skills and experiences that may or may not be on the resume. This is the most common letter and should be written for the specific position and company. A general template can be utilized for the main layout, but the letter should speak to the position and the skills required.

Networking Letter

Many times, a job seeker will need all of the assistance he can get. One way to get additional help that is often overlooked would be through a networking letter. This letter is generally addressed to a specific person in the company. If there is a manager that the job seeker is familiar with, a networking letter is a great idea.

The job seeker is looking for any leads or helpful hints that will help him land a job more quickly. With this letter, it is still good to include a resume. If this letter yields information from this employer, a thank you letter in return is appropriate.

This does not need to be incredibly long, but should simply thank the person for his assistance. By doing this, one can certainly strengthen bonds and relationships. This can prove to be useful in the future.


The proper layout and formatting on a hard copy is essential. The font should be simple to read and one of the more popular and widely used styles. Ones such as Calibri or Times New Roman are perfect. The font size is generally best when it is between 10 and 12 point.

Anything smaller is hard to read and anything that is larger will truly look oversized. The layout and look of the cover should match the resume if possible. This is not necessary, but will give a good sense of continuity if done in this manner. If they are too different, the effect will be one that is jarring and quite noticeable.

Margins can remain at traditional or factory setting, but may need to be adjusted. The margins should be at least one inch on each side and the top margins should be the same. Having one inch all the way around the page is traditional. Once the letter is typed out, one may find that these margins may look odd.

Adjustment Tricks

If adjusting these slightly will give the letter a better feel, these can be tweaked slightly. The same thing can be said for the font. If the letter is slightly over one page, increasing the margin a little can get it all on one page without having to edit.

Every letter should contain the same basis sections. Keeping a concise letter that is no longer than one page will keep the reader interested and want to look further into the resume.

The Introduction

The first paragraph of the letter will be used to state one's intentions. Listing the specific position one is applying for is needed, especially when there are several positions available at the same company. A sentence or two about the applicant's goals will show the employer that drive and dedication are two qualities that are possessed.

Either in a separate paragraph or in the introductory one, listing where one heard about the position is helpful. For some employers, this might be needed information as they will use this to judge the effectiveness of certain job postings.

The Body

The overall goal of the cover letter is obviously to get the employer to be interested and look over the resume. One way to do this would be to call attention to pertinent experience and background. The resume will give specifics about time, so the cover letter can be used to give some specifics about these various positions.

Depending on the position that one is applying for, the cover letter can be geared to this job. If one held positions that are similar, highlighting these may help. Also, if there are experiences that are not covered in the resume but may be worth mentioning, the cover letter is the place to do this. A resume will not always list every single experience or job one has help, but certain ones may be good to list in the letter.

Employment Gaps

If there are significant employment gaps in the resume, you do not want the employer guessing why these are present. He will usually think the worst. A simple explanation of this in the letter will help to give the employer a more accurate picture. Regardless of the reason, stating this in the most positive manner is most effective.

Concluding Remarks

The last paragraph of the cover letter is used to show appreciation for reviewing the letter and resume and will mention steps that the applicant will be taking next. This will generally include a statement where the applicant lists follow up plans.

This may be passive in that one simply states that he is looking forward to hearing back or it can be more direct. An example of this would be giving a specific time or date that the applicant will get back in touch about the position.

Reviewed and Proofed

Many times, a cover letter will contain grammatical or formatting errors. These can be easily avoided and can sometimes cause a person to be quickly removed from the contention. The person writing the letter can miss mistakes, so careful review will eliminate these. Reading the letter aloud may help to spot any errors. Having the cover letter reviewed by another person can help as well.

A friend or spouse can be a good sounding board. He may pick up on things that you missed or overlooked initially. The best method for review of the letter would be through the use of a company that specializes in employment assistance. Specialists will be able to review the cover letter and make recommendations as to its layout. These services will usually incur a fee, but it is worth the expense for a well crafted cover letter.

Etiquette and Tips

There are a number of common mistakes people make and certain guidelines that should be followed for every cover letter. The first would be that a cover letter needs to always accompany the resume. If the job listing or the employer states that this is not required, one should still be drafted and sent.

This not only shows that you go above and beyond what is asked, this also shows more about you than other applicants. The resume and cover letter should always go hand in hand.

The letter should be the right length. This is an introduction to the individual and the resume, so when it is concise it will be most effective. If there is one particular area that is discussed in great detail, it may need to be trimmed down a bit. The other side of this would be to ensure that it is long enough. Many times in email applications, the norm is to state that the employer should see the attached resume for information. This is never a good idea and is the easy way out.

Be Original

Originality will help the letter to stand out as long as this is done in a tasteful way. An employer will most likely be reviewing many letters and applications. One that is interesting and make the employer excited about the candidate will push that person through to getting an interview.

In addition to originality, being personal in the letter can be helpful as well. A letter that is correctly addressed to an individual is always better than one that is generically addressed to the Hiring Manager or not addressed at all. A small amount of research will get this information.

Importance of a Good Cover Letter

Review other cover letter templates for ideas. The letter should show one's enthusiasm. By looking over example letters, one may find that there are areas that can be adjusted or improved. A caution with this would that one should never copy a template that is found. By doing this, the letter can come off as being formulaic or be seen as unoriginal.

The cover letter is the introduction to a prospective employer. It should always go with a resume and will hopefully improve one's chances for the job. With some planning, revisions and careful review, the perfect letter can be written.

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This page was last modified on 3 August 2013, at 18:16.
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