Writing a Compelling Cover Letter

Everyone knows the importance of a well-crafted resume, but how many job seekers fully appreciate the power of a strong cover letter? This is the first document a hiring manager reviews when considering prospective employees, and it’s the applicant’s initial opportunity to make a good impression.

The best cover letters explain how your unique set of skills and experience make you the right person for the job. They also demonstrate your personality and passion for the position. Ideally, a carefully thought-out cover letter significantly increases your chances of being called for an interview.

Know Your Contact

Addressing your cover letter to the appropriate person is an essential, yet easily overlooked, first step. If a job listing includes only a post office box or reference number, call the company’s receptionist and explain that you’d like the name and title of the manager of the department so that you can send him or her a letter.

Even if you know the hiring manager’s name ahead of time, it’s a good idea to double-check the spelling and the appropriate title. One misplaced letter can send the signal that you lack attention to detail.

Stick With the Basics

Your cover letter doesn’t need a clever or witty introduction to grab the reader’s attention; simply state the facts. First, mention the position for which you’re applying and how you learned about it. Next, say why you want the position and what you can offer the employer. A good opening might read: “I recently saw your advertisement in the Anytown News for an audit director and feel my 10 years of experience in the accounting industry makes me an ideal candidate for this position.”

If you’ve been advised by an acquaintance to contact a specific individual about a possible opening, make this connection clear right away. Dropping a name in your introduction will catch the hiring manager’s attention and prompt him or her to keep reading.

Be Brief but Thorough

In general, a cover letter should include two to four paragraphs and take up no more than one page, so you don’t have much room to get your message across. Avoid the impulse to detail your employment history – that information is already contained in your resume. Instead, focus on what a hiring manager really wants to know: how you can benefit the business.

Be as specific as possible by calling attention to one or two points on your resume that highlight past accomplishments. Try something like, “In three years as product manager for ABC Corp., I increased revenue by 30 percent through various cost-cutting initiatives. I feel I can use this experience to help your firm improve operational efficiencies, as well.”

Target those issues that are of the greatest importance to the company by conducting in-depth research. Visiting the firm’s website, scanning industry publications or performing a keyword search using the organization’s name can yield helpful information. For example, an article in the newspaper may focus on the company’s desire to expand operations in the near future. Armed with such specifics, you can tailor your cover letter to directly address the employer’s needs.

Remember to limit what you say about your personal attributes and accomplishments. Include this information only to the extent that it will help the hiring manager understand how you can contribute to the firm or department.

End your cover letter strongly by detailing what you will do next. Rather than saying, “I hope to hear from you soon,” take a proactive approach: “I will contact you later this week to answer questions you may have about my resume. In the meantime, please feel free to reach me at (555) 555-5555.”

Proofread Before You Send

Our company’s research has consistently shown that one or two typographical errors on your cover letter are enough to discourage a hiring manager from calling you back. Use your computer’s spell-check function and the help of friends and family to make sure your material is error-free before sending it.

If you’re e-mailing your cover letter – as is common nowadays – prepare the file in ASCII, or plain text, a computer code that is universally compatible. Your document won’t feature formatting enhancements, like underline and boldface, but it can still look professional. Align the text with the left margin, replace bullets with asterisks or dashes and then check its overall appearance by sending the document to yourself prior to submission.

Some job seekers spend hours assembling a resume, then quickly compile a cover letter. But by taking your time on this document, you’re more likely to distinguish yourself early in the hiring process. With the proper preparation, you can write a compelling cover letter that gets you one step closer to an interview.