Your résumé is a concise summary of your accomplishments, experiences, and skills. Your cover letter is your opportunity to explain to each hiring manager how those accomplishments, experiences, and skills can add value to their organization.
Simply put, a cover letter gives a compelling reason for the hiring manager to pursue an interview with you. A cover letter should always accompany your résumé.
The more you customize your cover letter to the specific needs of the organization, position, and industry, the more effective your cover letter will be. Creating a "general cover letter" to use for multiple positions will not be effective.
What to Include in Your Cover Letter
You should write your letter in a business format -- and it should fit on a single page. Most cover letters are comprised of four paragraphs. Here's what you should include in each section:
Addressing your letter to a person is a great way to stand out, so see if you can find a name; if not, "Dear Hiring Manager" is a good salutation.
Tell the employer the name of the position you're applying for and where you saw it posted. If you were referred by a current employee of the company, be sure to include that person's name and title.
Explain how your accomplishments, experiences, and skills are a match for the position. Refer to the required skills section from the job posting to stay focused on the most relevant information.
Demonstrate your motivation. Aside from the fact that you saw the job posting, what draws you to this position or company? Remember, let the employer know what they can gain from hiring you -- not what you want from them.
Let the employer know you are eager to interview, and include contact information. You can also include steps for follow-up -- just be sure to follow through.
You can't lose with the traditional "Sincerely."
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The trouble with cover letters is that they need to be concise and must never be longer than a one-pager. Employers are busy professionals who have 10-20 seconds to skim your cover letter – so it’s important to state your case clearly and to the point.
How to cram lots of information into little space:
It’s not as difficult as it seems. Less really is more when it comes to crafting a cover letter that hits home. It’s a simple matter of focusing your time and attention on the essentials, basically the items an employer is most interested in. Here’s 5 ways you can do just that.
1. Three paragraphs
Start with creating three paragraphs on one page. In the first one, tell the reader what job you are applying for and why. In the second you list your skills and experience. And in the third paragraph, clearly and directly ask for the opportunity to have an interview to discuss things further.
2. Stay concise
Make sure you limit each paragraph to three or four well-written sentences, cutting out all the fluff and non-essentials. These could well be the most important sentences you write in your career, so take your time to ensure they are compelling and inspire the reader to want to see your resume and even call you for an interview today.
Leave generous margins so there’s plenty of white space and be sure to double space between paragraphs. This will make the cover letter more pleasing on the eye and put the reader at ease.
4. Facilitate reading
Assist the reader see at a glance what you wish to say by using numbers or bullet points. You want the reader to be able get a two second snapshot of the cover letter, as most people do before they read it through.
5. Check and check again
Proof-read through to catch spelling and grammatical errors, then print it out for one final edit. When you think it looks good, send it over to friends and family and let them go through it with a fine tooth comb.
Now imagine how the employer will feel when he or she opens your new cover letter. Hopefully they will find a simple, clearly worded letter that contains only necessary information and with a call to action – getting you in for an interview.
The rule of keeping things simple very much applies to cover letters. With employers being inundated with applications, they will appreciate a brief and effective letter like yours. The next step will be to keep your resume short and sweet to stay consistent with your punchy new cover letter.
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