By Louise Kursmark, Master Resume Writer
Writing cover letters can be a daunting task for new college graduates. Should you include a cover letter with each of your job applications? What should you say in your letter to capture the hiring manager’s attention? How can you distinguish yourself from other job seekers? These tips will help.
1. Always include a cover letter. Your cover letter explains why you are sending a resume and gives you the opportunity to highlight precisely what you offer that matches the employer’s needs. It allows you to showcase your writing skills and tell a compelling story about yourself and your career.
Pros and cons of sending cover letters:
2. Use a business letter format. Whether you’re printing your letter or sending it by email, use a standard letter format or e-letter format. In your email include a complete signature line (phone number and email address) to make it easy for employers to contact you.
Guidelines for printed and emailed cover letters:
It’s ideal to customize each letter to each opportunity, but you’ll find that you can re-use the structure and much of the content of your letters for many different opportunities. There’s no need to start from scratch every time. Just take a few minutes to think about what will be of most interest to the person you’re writing to, and adapt your letter accordingly.
3. Get to the point. Always keep in mind that recruiters and employers are extremely busy and are likely reviewing lots of resumes and cover letters. While you want to make your letter interesting and unique, be sure that you quickly and clearly communicate your reason for writing.
If it’s for a specific opportunity, reference the job title and posting number. If you were referred, mention that person’s name in the first sentence. If you’re making general inquiries, let your reader know the kinds of positions you’re looking for.
You are looking for a Customer Service Associate for your Denver location. Having worked in front-line customer service roles for 4 years, I realize that I am the voice and face of the company to our customers. I know how to solve customer problems and make them feel good about our interaction. I’d like to bring my skills and customer-focused approach to your company.
4. Make a case for yourself. Your letter should not be a generic, vague communication. Think about the value you offer this company in this particular position. Can you help them solve problems, make money, or satisfy customers? In your letter provide specific examples of how you have done that in the past.
You can write these examples in paragraph format or in bullets. In either case, be brief. And don’t make the mistake of copying information verbatim from your resume. That’s a major no-no and implies that you are lazy or lack imagination.
As the receptionist for the admissions office at State U, I was the first person to greet prospective students and their families. I answered their questions about where to park, where to eat, how to find things on campus, and what to expect from the campus tour. I did my best to put them at ease and give them a great perception of our university. I’m proud to say that the admissions greeting process consistently received the highest scores (9 or 10 on a 10-point scale) on the post-visit survey.
5. Give a brief overview of your qualifications. You don’t need to state your entire career or educational history, and you certainly don’t want to reiterate your resume in your cover letter. A short paragraph describing your qualifications – as related to the job at hand – will give employers what they need. Be sure to express your sincere interest and enthusiasm about the job and the company.
6. Close with confidence. Ask for the interview! You’re qualified, you’re eager, and you’re available.
Sample cover letter closings:
7. Spell-check and proofread. Careless errors are just as harmful in your letters as in your resume. Give prospective employers a great impression of who you are and how you can help them. That’s the essence of a great cover letter.
Resume and careers expert Louise Kursmark is the author of Best Resumes for College Students and New Grads and 20 additional books on resumes, cover letters, and other career topics. The first person worldwide to earn the prestigious Master Resume Writer credential, she is also Director of the Resume Writing Academy (www.resumewritingacademy.com), the first comprehensive training organization for resume professionals.