Study the Job Ad
Personalize your cover letter each time you apply for a job. To accomplish this, study the job ad to determine the skills and experience the employer deems most critical and make a list of these.
Prepare to Personalize
Next, write notes about your background that address the requirements outlined in the job ad. Concentrate on those listed as “required” or “critical” in the job post and jot down scenarios from your professional past where you have used these skills to accomplish a goal. If you have little to no work experience, consider using examples from school, sports or volunteer work to accomplish this.
Choose a Cover Letter Template
The design of your cover letter should be appropriate for the industry and job title you seek. A “less-is-more” design approach is typically safe when applying in conservative industries, while utilizing color and flair is acceptable for jobs in more creative industries. If you plan to apply for the same job title across industries, consider choosing one of LiveCareer’s cover letter templates. This approach allows you to switch up the look and feel of your cover letter in a few clicks of your mouse, at no extra charge.
Write the 5 Sections of Your Cover Letter
The header of your cover letter contains your contact information. In addition to your telephone number and email address, many job seekers like to include links to their LinkedIn profiles, personal websites or online portfolios.
To make your cover letter eye-catching, address it to a specific individual. If the name of the hiring manager is not listed in the job ad, do some research on LinkedIn and the company website to identify the right person.
If it isn’t possible, at least target the proper department in your greeting, such as “To the Senior Editor.” Avoid generic greetings, such as “To Whom It May Concern” at all costs.
The opening paragraph of your letter should outline why you are applying to the job and entice the recruiter to continue reading. Concentrate on making this paragraph succinct, but include a teaser.
If you are applying for a customer service position, for example, you might write, “Your ad on Craigslist for a Customer Service Manager caught my eye. As a long-time customer service representative with XYZ Telecommunications, I have acquired all of the required experience outlined in the job post and feel ready to move into a management role.”
The body of your cover letter is its largest and, arguably, most valuable real estate. As such, these paragraphs should complement your resume rather than repeat the information found there. Use this space, which should be two or three short paragraphs at most, to expand on your experience and qualifications.
In addition to the relevant requirements you’ve noted from the job ad in Step 2, use data and relevant metrics whenever possible to show the impact of your work, rather than listing job responsibilities. To save space, bullet points can be an effective way to pack a lot of information into a small space.
Your closing paragraph should summarize the contents of your letter and reiterate the value you’ll bring to the company if you are hired. Keep your tone professional but don’t be afraid to express enthusiasm for the role. In the last sentence, be sure to thank the reader for reviewing your credentials.
7 Cover Letter Writing Dos and Don’ts
Now that we have covered the basics of how to write a cover letter, let’s discuss the information that should and should never appear in your letter.
- Do study the job ad. This will allow you to focus the content of your letter on the skills and experience that matter most to the employer.
- Do add data and metrics. To pack a punch in your cover letter, add numbers to show employers the impact your work has had on past employers.
- Do stay positive about your past employers. A cover letter should always be professional and upbeat. Complaining about a current or past employer could be a red flag to hiring managers.
- Do focus on the employer’s needs. The content of your cover letter should focus on your skills and experience and what you can do to add value to the company. Adding information about your professional goals could give the employer the impression that the role you are applying for is merely a stepping stone.
- Don’t add personal information. Including details like your age, marital status, religion or political beliefs can invite unconscious bias into the hiring process and is never recommended.
- Don’t discuss salary. Unless you have been asked specifically to state your desired salary, don’t mention money. Some states have made it illegal for recruiters and hiring managers to ask about salary history so never include information about your current salary.
- Don’t lie or embellish. Everything in your cover letter should match your resume and be 100 percent true. Untruths or exaggerations will almost always be discovered during a background check so keep your information honest.
Check Your Formatting
Formatting your cover letter properly is critical to presenting a clean, professional document. Here are four formatting areas to consider when reviewing your cover letter:
Your cover letter should never be longer than one page.
Your text should be aligned to the left. Never center or justify the text. Indent the first word of each paragraph.
Use standard letter margins of at least 1.5 inches. If your letter is too long, avoid widening the margins to fit the text. Instead, edit the content down to the most relevant content.
Don’t be tempted by “fun” fonts, even if you are applying in a creative field. Regardless of industry, select a basic, easy-to-read font. Keep the text at an 10-, 11-, or 12-point size. Acceptable cover letter fonts include Times New Roman, Calibri and Arial.
Proofread and Send to a Friend
Simple mistakes can ruin all of your hard work. As a last step, always use a grammar and spell-check tool before sending out your cover letter. Then, read it from top to bottom out loud to make sure everything makes sense. As an extra safeguard, send your letter to a trusted friend for a second look with a fresh set of eyes.
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Craft a Better Cover Letter
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