Throughout your job search you will communicate in writing with employers, recruiters and networking contacts, so your letters and emails are an important part of marketing yourself.
Composing a cover letter can feel daunting. Attack the letter-writing process step-by-step to make the effort more manageable.
Do you have to include a cover letter when applying for jobs? Generally, yes. Even if an employer does not explicitly request a cover letter, include one. There might be situations it isn’t is not needed, such as when handing out resumes at a career fair or when a colleague is personally referring your resume to a contact.
A cover letter offers an additional and different way to present your sales pitch. It reinforces your brand you portray in your resume. And since it’s personal and customized to a specific role and company, it more specifically shows how you think, write and present a business case than a resume can
Your primary purpose is to immediately inspire the reader to thoroughly review your resume. Present key information that compels the reader to contact you for an interview.The letter should ensure they do not miss the key highlights of your background for the specific role and company, and make the connection between their job opening and your resume. In other words, the cover letter creates the case for why your candidacy should be given serious consideration.
Because you are writing to a employer for a specific opening, customize your letter to the job ad. Carefully review the ad to identify the key criteria that are sought and address them directly.
If there are a few key criteria that you do not meet exactly, consider whether you could substitute something you’ve done that demonstrates the basic underlying skill or which represents a very similar kind of experience.
The #1 secret to better letters
To make the best impression and to present a compelling message, be clear, to the point and well organized. No amount of fancy wording can overcome a poorly constructed message.
Craft a simple outline. Carefully review the list of points you want to include and eliminate redundancies. Reorganize remaining items, listing the most important points first. Revisit the items at the bottom of your list. You might find some weaker items don’t need to be included. Then and, only then, start writing!
By organizing your thoughts in this way, you’ll ensure you are:
Responding to the employer’s top criteria
Putting your best ideas first
Keeping the letter tight and focused by eliminating repetition
Creating a smoother, well-flowing message
Good letters follow a specific but simple structure that will make it easier for you effectively present your message and for the reader to follow and understand it.
The 3 basic parts of a cover letter
There are three key sections, each with its own purpose.
Intro/opening: Its main purpose is to introduce you and what job you are applying for. It is brief but important.For maximum impact, start building your case immediately. It can be helpful to share how you learned about their opening. This can be particularly meaningful if someone personally referred you. And don’t be afraid to mention specific people. This is not superficial name-dropping; it helps make the connection between you and the organization and puts your application and interest into context.Use your relevant skills and experience as the backdrop for your interest. So, instead of “I’m writing to you today to express my interest in the Senior Financial Analyst” role, you might write, “As an MBA with solid experience in using analytical, research, and forecasting skills in the investment industry, I am writing to express my strong interest in the Senior Financial Analyst role.”
Body: Present your case for being seriously considered for the role. Address the employer’s needs directly. Analyze the job ad to identify key issues and address them.While you can include a few additional points that you feel are beneficial, avoid generalities that bear little or no relation to their needs.Review your resume carefully to determine which aspects of your background you can call out to make your case. Do not recreate your resume in the letter. Instead, call out its highlights so the reader doesn’t miss them and makes connection between your strengths and their needs.
Closing: Your closing words play a critical role. Thank the reader for their consideration and reinforce the main points of your letter. You could add a few items that round out your value add, such as skills, credentials or personality traits.End with an action item, stating what you will do next to follow up or what you hope the reader will do next. You might write that you will call to see if there is mutual interest in an interview or to offer additional information. If you don’t have the contact information needed to follow up by phone, mention your strong interest in an interview.
Word/PDF formatted letter or Email?
Most communications today are electronic, but you still might want to create cover letters and other correspondence in Word or PDF formats and use them as attachments to an email or to upload into a website. The advantage of these formats is the letter will look more attractive, traditional and professional, particularly if the recipient prints the letter at some point.
Copy the stylized name and contact information from your resume to create a matching letterhead for your correpsondecne
Include the date of the letter a few lines under your letterhead.
Use triple space between the date and the recipient’s address. Include the person’s name, title, company and mailing address.
Address your letter to the appropriate person if possible. If not, alternative greetings might be: Dear HR Manager, Dear Hiring Manager, Dear Sir/Madam. Since all of these generic greetings are a bit impersonal, however, some people eliminate the greeting and start with the first paragraph.
Address the recipient by their last name: Dear Mr. Chang, Dear Ms. Walker, Dear Dr. Gomez. If you are already well-acquainted with them, you can use their first name. If the person’s gender is not obvious, do research online or by calling the company to inquire. If you can’t locate that, you can use Dear Pat Miller or Dear Mr./Ms. Miller.
Traditional business-letter format uses a colon at the end of the greeting. Only personal letters use a comma.
Side margins should be equal and the letter should be roughly centered from top to bottom.
Single space paragraphs; double space between them.
Double space between the last paragraph and your closing, such as Sincerely or Best regards.
Leave space for your signature if sending a hard copy or using an electronic signature. Use triple space between the closing and your name. For electronic versions of your letter that cannot be signed, use double space.
Job-search emails are acceptable in many situations. To determine which format to use, consider the recipient’s industry, function and style. For example, a professional at a tech company might expect virtually all written communications to be conveyed by email.
It’s fine to use traditional email formatting. You don’t need to insert a letterhead into the email itself.
You don’t need the inside or recipient’s address since the most relevant contact information will be in the email’s header.
Keep the subject line concise but descriptive: “Applicant for Marketing Manager Opening” or “Referred by Sanjay Gupta for Director of Supply Chain.”
Use simple formatting to ensure the message is easily readable regardless of the device the recipient is using. In other words, avoid two-columned or other complex formats for the letter.
Though compelling information will likely keep the recipient reading, keep email correspondence concise to avoid the need for lots of scrolling.
Since there is no letterhead, include additional contact information under your name at the end of the letter. This might include your full address and a link to your LinkedIn profile; be sure to include your phone number.
Better letter writing
As with your resume, the quality of your job-search correspondence can make or break your search. All correspondence, whether networking emails or cover, thank you, and accept/decline letters should:
Be personalized and unique to each individual or company. Never send form or generic letters or emails. If you don’t show enough interest to take the time to write a customized letter, why should the reader be interested in you?
Clearly and quickly state your message. Take time to organize, conceptualize and organize your message.
Be concise and to the point. Use descriptive words that enrich your message, but eliminate those that don’t add value Keep the letter to one page.
Convey your professionalism and strong communication skills. Avoid informal styles and slang. Even a fairly informal email to a well-known contact could forwarded to someone in a position to hire you.
Present your message in your voice to convey your unique message regarding this unique opportunity. Don’t rely on sample letters; use them only to stimulate your thinking.
Include ext steps you will take or that you are requesting or suggesting the reader take
Be addressed to a specific person, ideally, not a title or department. If the name is not readily available, do research via the Internet, LinkedIn, personal networking or by calling the company.
Be error free in terms of grammar, spelling and punctuation. Don’t let a typo undermine all of your other good efforts!
Separate “what” you want to say from “how” you will say it. Thinking that your writing needs to be flawless from the start is a sure way to get writer’s block. First, get the message right. Later, polish it through careful editing.
Write like you speak – be yourself! Often, the clearest, quickest way to get your message across is to use everyday language. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use sophisticated concept, but avoid trying to sound so impressive that your writing becomes convoluted and stiff.
Stick to one main idea per paragraph. When you switch ideas, start a new paragraph.
Introduce the central thought of the paragraph in the opening sentence. This grabs the reader’s attention, engaging them in that central message.
Use transitions to connect your thoughts: in addition, also, however, for example.
Use jargon judiciously. Use enough jargon to sound like an insider but not enough that other readers, like HR staff, will be left in the dark.
Don’t expect to be able to write strong letters right out of the gate. Editing your letter is a critical step in ensuring your message is market-ready.
Simplify your message to amplify it! Remember, the cover letter is not trying to get you a job. It just needs to whet the reader’s interest in thoroughly reading your resume.
Read it aloud or ask someone to read it to you. Your ear will catch awkward phrasing, repetitive wording and grammar errors that your eye might not catch. If you run out of breath, the sentence is too long. Long sentences can confuse the reader at worst, and lose their interest.
Proofread carefully – errors are simply not an option. Reading is not proofreading. Proofreading is slow and meticulous. And realize that you can’t delegate perfection – you need to proofread it yourself, too.
Sending a thank-you letter, note or email to follow up after an interview is a best practice. Many people neglect to provide this professional courtesy, so you will often stand out in a positive way and might tip the scales in your favor.
The purpose of the thank-you note is, of course, to thank the people who interviewed you for their time and consideration of your candidacy. But it also provides a great vehicle to reiterate key points: how interested you are in the job and how well-qualified you are for it.
It doesn’t take a lot of time or space to get those two points across. You could write them in one or two sentences. Of course, your thank-you note will not be quite that brief, but typically it will be concise and much shorter than your cover letter.
Personalize your message by thanking them for something specific: perhaps a discussion of the company’s future goals, a review of departmental priorities, a tour of the facility or a copy of the company’s annual reports. This will add an element of authenticity to your note.
If you had particularly positive impressions of the company, team and responsibilities, mention them to convey your sincere enthusiasm.
Reiterate your key selling points and their fit to the position and company.
If you neglected to mention something important in the interview or feel you could presented information more strongly, you you could briefly mention it it in the letter.
Include follow-up information requested by the interviewer.
Responding to offers
After receiving a job offer and verbally accepting, request the offer in writing. This might include a form for you to sign and return to indicate your acceptance. Writing a letter of acceptance is a best practice, too.
Use the same care that went into your cover letter – a professional, polished and positive acceptance letter reinforce in the employer’s mind that they made the right choice! You will want to:
Clearly indicate acceptance.
Restate terms of employment: title, salary and start date.
Convey eagerness and excitement in your own voice.
Mention next interaction, if appropriate.
Avoid overly detailed logistical questions, which are better handled in follow-up conversations and emails.
The vast majority of people don’t think to send a letter when they turn down an offer. While it is not required, not sending one could leave a very unflattering impression with the company, which could be important in the future. When writing letters to decline an offer:
Express appreciation for the offer.
Offer any sincere positive feedback about the opportunity.
Provide a very brief, to-the-point rationale. Don’t get into too much detail. You won’t want to risk disparaging their offer, job or company, nor open the door to a debate. Keep the tone positive and professional; avoid sounding overly apologetic. This is a business deal you have decided not to pursue, not a personal rejection.
Even rarer than a letter declining a job offer is a letter thanking the employer after you are turned down for the job. But writing a brief note thanking the employer for their time and for letting you know the outcome will often appear so professional and gracious that it will stand out in a powerful way.
Thank them for the time and effort they invested in interviewing you. You can, of course, mention your disappointment. You can even mention that your disappointment is based on your sense that there truly was a great fit between your credentials and their job. But do not question or debate their decision.
A nice touch is to wish them the best with their selection while simultaneously mentioning your continued interest in their organization and your hope that they keep you in mind should suitable future openings arise. And they probably will!