by Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., and Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
Note: You have a maximum of 20 seconds to wow the reader of your letter, so you better maximize its impact by making it dynamic!
There is a formula that can be followed as a guide to writing your cover letters. However, it is critical that each cover letter be unique and specific to you and to the employer -- not one that any applicant could have written to any employer. [Read more in this article: Cover Letter Success is All About Specifics.]
Keep your cover letter brief. Never, Never more 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.
If you are writing cover letter that you plan to email, consider shortening the cover letter to just three short paragraphs so that it runs no longer than about one screen. Read more.
Finally, remember that there are numerous keys to writing a successful cover letter. We try to address all of them here, but you can find many more cover letter resources in the Quintessential Careers Cover Letter Resources section.
Fundamentals of a Dynamic Cover Letter
Do not waste this opening paragraph of your cover letter. It is essential that your first paragraph sparks the employer's interest, provides information about the benefits the employer will receive from you, and helps you stand out from all the other job-seekers who want the job.
Focus on your Unique Selling Proposition (USP) -- the one thing that makes you different from all the other job-seekers -- and identifying two or three benefits you can offer the employer.
Weak opening paragraph:
- I am writing today to apply for the account manager position you have posted on your company Website.
Better opening paragraph: I have increased the size and sales levels of my client base in every position I have held, which in turn has increased the revenues and profits of my employers. I want to bring this same success to the account position you have posted on your Website.
Provide more detail about your professional and/or academic qualifications. Provide more information about how you can provide the benefits you mention in the first paragraph. Be sure to stress accomplishments and achievements rather than job duties and responsibilities. Expand on specific items from your resume that are relevant to the job you are seeking. Use solid action verbs to describe your accomplishments and achievements.
If you do not have a lot of solid experience in the field you are trying to enter, remember to focus on key skills that can easily transfer from your previous work experience to the job at hand.
And if responding to a job posting or job ad, be sure to tailor this paragraph to the needs described in the ad.
Relate yourself to the company, giving details why you should be considered for the position. Continue expanding on your qualifications while showing knowledge of the company.
You need to do your homework -- show that you know something about the organization. Use the resources in our Guide to Researching Companies.
The final paragraph of your cover letter must be proactive -- and request action. You must ask for the job interview (or a meeting) in this paragraph. You must express your confidence that you are a perfect fit for the job. You must also put the employer on notice that you plan to follow-up within a specified time.
Weak closing paragraph:
- I hope you will review my resume, and if you agree with what I have stated here, consider me for the position. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Better closing paragraph: I am eager to help advance the success of your company, and I am convinced that we should arrange a time to meet. I will call your office in the next week to schedule an appointment.
One last piece of advice: Follow-up is key, so plan on making some phone calls or sending some emails.
Want to see some free concrete examples? Follow this link to some sample 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 Job-Seeker's Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Go back to the Cover Letter Resources for Job-Seekers section of Quintessential Careers, where you will find a collection of the best cover letter tools and resources, including articles, tutorials, and more.