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Job search tip #1
Make your cover letter count!
While you may spend days perfecting your resume, remember it's the cover letter that gets read first, and it has the potential to put you either over the top or in the discard pile. Don't sell yourself short with a hurried, generic letter that makes your resume do the brunt of the work of impressing your future employer. Follow the advice in the PLA's revised Guide to Basic Cover Letter Writing to devise a document that skillfully complements your resume and, in the space of 8-1/2 x 11 inches, establishes you as a must-see interviewee.
Whether you're changing careers, re-entering the job market, or looking for your first job, this comprehensive, easy-to-follow guide will show you how to:
In today's competitive job market, the importance of a clear, concise, carefully crafted cover letter is more important than ever before. Get it right and get the job with the help of The Guide to Basic Cover Letter Writing.
General Information About Cover Letters
Typically, when you begin the job search and application process, the first thing you do is make sure you have an up-to-date, concise and impressive resume. For detailed information and instructions on crafting an outstanding resume, you should turn to one of the companion guides to this book, the Guide to Basic Resume Writing. After you have your polished and professional resume in hand and you've located and researched the job for which you'll be applying, you need to write a targeted cover letter that speaks to the company's needs and sells yourself as the ideal candidate for the job.
THE PURPOSE OF THE COVER LETTER
Cover letters accompany your resume and serve the purpose of highlighting the specific skills you possess that will be of interest to the prospective employer. While there may be instances where you deliver your resume in person, you will usually send it through the mail or online. Resumes sent through the mail always need an accompanying letter that briefly introduces you and your resume. The purpose of the cover letter is to compel a potential employer to read your resume, just as the purpose of the resume is to convince that same potential employer to call you for an interview. It is used primarily to:
Introduce yourself and the resume that follows.
Show employers that you understand their company/organization, and have at least a basic knowledge of their products, services, markets, and/or employment needs.
Tell employers why and how your qualifications can help their specific business or organization (for example: increase sales, reduce costs, or improve efficiency).
Expand on key points listed in an advertisement or job description. You can use wording directly from the advertisement for this purpose.
Request an interview to discuss matters that could be of mutual interest, or tell the reader that you'll call him or her to discuss the position and arrange a meeting.
PRODUCING THE COVER LETTER
Like your resume, your cover letter should be clean, neat, and direct. A cover letter usually includes the following information:
1. Your name and address (unless it already appears on your personal letterhead) and your phone number(s); see item 7.
2. The date.
3. The name and address of the person and company to whom you are sending your resume.
4. The salutation ("Dear Mr." or "Dear Ms." followed by the person's last name, or "To Whom It May Concern" if you are answering a blind ad).
5. An opening paragraph explaining why you are writing (for example, in response to an ad, as a follow-up to a previous meeting, at the suggestion of a mutual acquaintance) and indicating that you are interested in whatever job is being offered.
6. One or more paragraphs that tell why you want to work for the company and what qualifications and experiences you can bring to the position. This is a good place to mention some detail about that particular company that makes you want to work for them; this shows that you have done some research before applying.
7. A final paragraph that closes the letter and invites the reviewer to contact you for an interview. This can be a good place to tell the potential employer which method would be best to use when contacting you. Be sure to give the correct phone number and a good time to reach you, if that is important. You may mention here that your references are available upon request.
8. The closing ("Sincerely" or "Yours truly") followed by your signature in a dark ink, with your name typed under it.
Your cover letter should include all of this information and be no longer than one page in length. The language used should be polite, businesslike, and to the point. Don't attempt to tell your life story in the cover letter; a long and cluttered letter will serve only to annoy the reader. Remember that you need to mention only a few of your accomplishments and skills in the cover letter. The rest of your information is available in your resume. If your cover letter is a success, your prospective employer will read your resume and will review all pertinent information.
After you have written your cover letter, proofread it as thoroughly as you did your resume. Again, spelling or punctuation errors are a sure sign of carelessness, and you don't want that to be a part of your first impression on a prospective employer. This is no time to trust your spell-check function. Even after going through a spelling and grammar check, your cover letter should be carefully proofread by at least one other person.
Print the cover letter on the same quality bond paper you used for your resume. Remember to sign it, using a good pen with black ink. Handle the letter and resume carefully to avoid smudging or wrinkling, and mail them together in an appropriately sized envelope. Many stores sell matching envelopes to coordinate with your choice of bond paper.
Keep an accurate record of all resumes you send out and the results of each mailing. This record can be kept on your computer, in a calendar or notebook, or on file cards. Knowing when a resume is likely to have been received will keep you on track as you make follow-up phone calls.
About a week after mailing resumes and cover letters to potential employers, contact them by telephone. Confirm that your resume arrived and ask whether an interview might be possible. Be sure to record the name of the person you spoke to and any other information you gleaned from the conversation. It is wise to treat the person answering the phone with a great deal of respect; sometimes the assistant or receptionist has the ear of the person doing the hiring.
PERSONALIZE YOUR PRESENTATION
Cover letters should always be individualized because they are always written to specific individuals and companies. Never use a form letter for your cover letter or copy it as you would a resume. Each cover letter should be unique, and as personal and lively as possible. (Of course, once you have written and rewritten your first cover letter until you are satisfied with it, you can certainly use similar wording in subsequent letters. You may want to save a template on your computer for future reference.) Keep a hard copy of each cover letter so that you know exactly what you wrote in each one. Remember that every letter is unique and depends on your particular circumstances and the job for which you are applying.
A resume alone cannot highlight your personal skills the way a cover letter can. A well-written cover letter allows you to discuss the needs of the potential employer rather than your own needs, and give several key reasons why you should be interviewed for the position. You must clearly demonstrate how you would apply your skills, training, and experience to help an organization achieve its goals better than anyone else.
The letter helps convey those personal qualities and desires that may not belong in your resume, such as self-motivation, desire to travel or relocate, or excellent record of attendance. A good letter sets you apart from applicants who submit only resumes or applications. It gives you a way to personalize each resume you send, while targeting companies through research and a customized approach. Your cover letter must focus the reader on your particular skills and provide good reasons to continue reading the resume and/or application that follows.
EMPLOYERS NEED TO KNOW: WHAT CAN YOU DO FOR ME?
Always keep in mind that the employers want to see what you can
Excerpted from The Guide to Basic COVER LETTER WRITING. Copyright © 2004 by Public Library Association. Excerpted by permission of The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc..
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Part I General Information About Cover Letters
Part II Essential Guidelines for Writing Cover Letters
Part III Advice from the Experts
Part IV Cover Letter Examples for Various Positions
Part V Printing and Distributing Your Cover Letter and Resume
Part VI The Interview
Appendix A: Further Reading
Appendix B: Selected Organizations of Interest
Appendix C: Action Words