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Writing Cover Letters that Get Attention

 

Effective cover letters are clear, to the point, and brief. The cover letter should convey information in three to four paragraphs that consist of the opening, the body and the closing.

The best way to craft a good cover letter is by working from the job description, making reference to how you have demonstrated the skills required or knowledge necessary to fulfill the stated responsibilities.

A cover letter should accomplish six things:

    1. Introduce who you are and why you are writing to the potential employer, targeting your resume toward a specific position using a job description
    2. Present an overview of your qualifications
    3. Demonstrate how you are prepared to contribute and meet their hiring needs by referring to the job description
    4. Give evidence of what you have discovered about the organization and why you would like to work for them
    5. Encourage the employer to review your resume to learn more about you
    6. Specify your plans to be proactive

Target your cover letter to a specific person or title. Employers often do not pay attention to a letter addressed "To Whom It May Concern." It may take some work to research and call companies to ask who is in charge of hiring (and their contact information), but the results may be worth it. If the name is not available, address your letter to the appropriate title e.g. "Dear Human Resources Manager".

The Opening

Begin your letter by introducing yourself and directly stating why you are writing to the employer. Present yourself as a qualified candidate by stating your credentials, skills, and experience that would be of interest to the employer and would match the position description. If you are applying for a specific position, state the position title and how you learned of the opening.

Example:

As a recent college graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration and over four years of customer service experience, I am prepared to work in the areas of customer service, account development, and/or entry-level management.

Or:

I am writing to present myself as a qualified candidate for the Management Trainee position that was listed in the April 10 issue of The Repository.

If you are writing to inquire about possible job openings, simply state why you are writing and give the employer areas you are prepared to make contributions in as well as types of positions in which you are interested. In addition, make reference to your strengths, skills, and examples of contributions you are prepared to make to the organization.

Example:

I am seeking to obtain an entry-level accounting position within The Timken Company, and would like to be considered for any potential opportunities. Some of my major strengths include inventory management, account management and a sound working knowledge of Excel and QuickBooks. In my last position, I was able to effectively build a system that tracked all assets of the organization.

An effective opening should entice the reader to look further into your qualifications and credentials. It sets the stage for what you have to offer and contribute to the employer.

It is with genuine enthusiasm that I am writing to request consideration for the admissions  counselor position as listed in the August 3 edition of The Repository. I am confident my experience in student organizations and leadership positions along with my degree in Communication Arts would be of value to you and your institution.

The Body

Describe the job-related and transferable skills you possess. Demonstrate how they match with the position for which you are applying. Appropriately quote the terms from the classified ad or position description. Direct the employer's attention to the skills, strengths, abilities and experiences that make you a highly qualified candidate for the position. As a result of reading your cover letter, the reader should want to look at your resume for more details regarding your experiences. Briefly explain what you believe you can do for the company/organization.

A cover letter should articulate your understanding of the position for which you are applying. Convey your passion for this career area and demonstrate the research you have done to better understand the organization. Whenever possible, obtain a job description and tailor your letter to the specifics of that description. This shows the reader that you cared enough to be thorough and professional in your job search communications.

Example:

As you will see by the enclosed resume, I have four years of experience in student development work and recently completed a course on developing student leaders on college campuses. In addition, I have been an active member in various campus committees, which have provided me with a variety of teamwork and leadership opportunities. As a result, I am confident my skills and experiences would be an asset to your institution.

For teachers, it is suggested that you include a brief overview of your teaching philosophy, classroom management style, methods of teaching and most importantly, your passion for teaching, such as why you chose to become an educator.

Whenever possible, give examples of how you demonstrated specific skills related to your career field and include any accomplishments that will establish credibility.

Example:

By devising and implementing new procedures, which utilized staff and technology more efficiently, I reduced operating cost by 20 percent. The end result was a more efficient organization offering higher quality accounting services.

In addition to expressing your skills and interest in the position, conduct some research on the employer and share some of the results of your research with the reader. In particular, describe some of the reasons why you would like to work for this employer.

Example:

While conducting research on the Golf Pro Plus Company, I discovered it has become a $1 billion dollar organization and that the company continues to diversify in product and services. Because of my successful experience in marketing and product development, I am confident I could make a significant contribution to the growth and success of the corporation. I would welcome the opportunity to join your creative and results-oriented staff.

 

The Closing

In closing, you should indicate that you are enthusiastic about the possibility of meeting with the employer. Take the initiative by indicating when you plan to contact him or her, via phone or e-mail, checking on the status of your application. This should sound non-threatening, giving you the opportunity to discover if the right person received your resume. The phone call conversation could also help to determine if the position is still open. You may also be able to ask how the selection process is to be conducted. It is best to say you will contact them within the same week you send the letter with your resume and reference page. Job seekers should avoid letting a week go by in this process.

Example:

I look forward to the possibility of meeting you to discuss my qualifications. I will contact your office during the week of August 10 to determine the status of my application. Thank you for your time and consideration.

 

Final Points

  • Keep your letter short, clear, and professional. Flashy or "gimmicky" letters do not impress most employers.
  • Type the letter, using your favorite word processing software, with a laser or high quality inkjet printer, using paper that matches your resume (24-32 lbs. and in a neutral conservative color).
  • Proofread carefully for typing, punctuation, and spelling errors. Ask Career Development and/or other people to review your letter, seeking suggestions to improve your document.
  • Make sure your document is error-free.
  • Retain a copy of the letter for your records, and be sure to follow up as indicated in your correspondence.
  • Remember to sign your name and include the word "Enclosure" below the signature line for your resume, reference page, application form, etc.


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