by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., and Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Here are the keys for jobseekers in writing successful (and dynamic) job-search cover letters. Follow these simple rules and guidelines and you should achieve success in this important phase of job-hunting, helping lead you to the next phase... job interviews.
- Don't ever apply for a job without a cover letter, no matter how well you've learned how to write a resume.
- Do address your letter to a named individual.
- Don't use a generic salutation, such as "To Whom It May Concern" when answering a blind ad.
- Don't waste your first paragraph by writing a boring introduction. Use the first paragraph to grab the employer's attention; give the employer the reasons you are qualified for the position.
- Do send an original letter to each employer.
- Don't use cliches, such as, "Enclosed, please find my resume." Employers can see that your resume is enclosed; they don't need you to tell them. Such trite phrases just waste precious space.
- Do use simple language and uncomplicated sentence structure. Ruthlessly eliminate all unnecessary words. Follow the journalist's credo: Write tight!
- Do write cover letters that are unique and specific to you, but if you're having troubles getting started, consider using our Dynamic Cover Letter Formula. And do take advantage of these free cover letter samples.
- Do speak to the requirements of the job, especially when responding to an ad.
- Do keep your letter brief. It should never be longer than one page, and it's best to keep it well under a full page. Each paragraph should have no more than one to three sentences.
- Do tell the employer how you can meet his or her needs and contribute to the company.
- Do distinguish your cover letter from those of other jobseekers by quantifying and giving examples that amplify and prove the claims you make in your letter.
- Do try to answer the question that the employer will be asking while reading your letter: "Why should I hire this person?" Answer with your Unique Selling Proposition.
- Don't rehash your resume. You can use your cover letter to highlight the aspects of your resume that are relevant to the position, but you're wasting precious space – and the potential employer's time – if you simply repeat your resume.
- Do avoid negativity. Negativity never has a place in a cover letter.
- Do be sure the potential employer can reach you.
- Do avoid the three most common cover letter mistakes.
- Do use action verbs to describe your experience.
- Don't forget to personally sign the letter, preferably in blue ink.
Don't send a cover letter that contains any typos, misspellings, incorrect grammar or punctuation, smudges, or grease from yesterday's lunch.
Some of these dos and don'ts are taken from Dynamic Cover Letters.Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Jobseeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her Ph.D in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market, as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes. With Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., she also authored Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot's Guide to Study Skills. Visit her personal website. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He's often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal website, or check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.
Additional Resources for Jobseekers: