Ask any job seeker for their thoughts on the most difficult aspect of applying for jobs, and chances are you’ll hear the same response over and over again: writing the cover letter. Even professional writers confess to having difficulty crafting this all-important piece, which needs to introduce you to a potential employer and get them interested in reading your resume and learning more about you. There are, however, some tricks you can use to make the process easier — and help get your application to the top of the pile.
Use the Four Paragraph Format
Think of your cover letter like an appetizer: just enough to get a taste of what’s to come, but not a whole meal in itself. That means that the letter shouldn’t be several pages long, nor should it rehash everything in your resume.
Instead, keep your letter succinct, to-the-point and four paragraphs. In the first paragraph, introduce yourself; if you have a shared acquaintance, drop their name right off the bat. If you don’t, use the opening to make an impression. Avoid “I’m pleased to apply to for the position of . . .,” or another similar, boring opening. Lead off with an anecdote or interesting fact, such as “Some might wonder why, after a long career in nursing, I opted to move from an rn to bsn.” The employer is reading dozens of letters — make yours memorable.
The second paragraph of the cover letter should summarize your skills, followed by a third paragraph that specifically points out how your experience matches the job description. In the final paragraph, state when or how you will be in touch, if appropriate, or express your interest in an interview.
Skip Unnecessary Details
Unless you are specifically directed to do so, there’s no need to mention where you saw a job posting in the cover letter. If you aren’t applying to a specific position, include a line or two explaining why you are contacting the company or mentioning the person who referred you.
Your cover letter also shouldn’t be a simple rehash of your resume. This is an opportunity to highlight achievements that may not be immediately apparent in your experience and make connections between your experience and the employer’s needs that may not be immediately apparent. Use bullet points to highlight your greatest achievements or how your experience meets the employer’s requirements; for example, list “I hold a communication degree and a certificate in leadership” when the listing calls for communication and leadership skills.
There’s also no need to mention that a resume is enclosed. If you’re sending a letter, the reader can probably figure that out.
Once you’ve drafted your cover letter, have someone else look it over to make suggestions and proofread. With such a competitive job market, a simple typo or grammatical mistake can take you out of the running.
Writing a great cover letter can be challenging, but it’s worth the time and effort once you land your dream job. So give it the time it deserves and let your personality, experience and skills shine through.
Andrea Logan is a career counselor and human resources expert with more than two decades of experience helping professionals find the right career. She holds a Master’s in Communication, and teaches workshops on professional communication at her local university extension.
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