How to Write an Effective Cover Letter

We’ve all been there: staring at a blank screen with a flashing cursor, unsure of what to write. But since a cover letter is very important when applying for an internship or job, it may be what sends your resume to the top of the pile or the garbage can below, according to a post on staffing agency Robert Half International’s blog.

There are mixed reviews on cover letters. A Slate hiring manager was quoted in an article in The Atlantic magazine: “If I hate a cover letter, I won’t even look at a resume.” Yet, a survey conducted by reCareered reported 90% of hiring managers ignored every cover letter they received. Regardless of your opinion on cover letters, you usually need one for the application process.

First things first: A cover letter should not rehash everything on your resume. Its purpose is to highlight and bring the hiring managers’ attention to the most important experience and skills you possess for that specific job. According to New England College’s Office of Career and Life Planning, a cover letter must be clear, relevant and interesting. And it needs to address four main topics: why you are writing, why you are good, why you are interested and what you will do next.

Other things to consider:

  • Do your homework. Get to know the company and even the hiring manager before putting pen to paper. If you’re applying for a job in the creative field, you may want to be more casual in tone than if you’re applying to a century-old finance company. Look beyond the job description. Read through the company website and employees’ professional social media profiles (like Twitter and LinkedIn) to gain an understanding of the company culture.
  • Make an outline. Use the four main topics above for a solid foundation to create an outline, and jot down bullet points to ensure you hit all the necessary themes. Since you’ve already conducted your research, be sure to keep company culture and professional connections in mind while brainstorming. The more time you spend creating a robust outline, the easier it will be to start writing.
  • Craft a strong opening and closing. Instead of simply stating that you’re “writing to apply for the marketing analyst job,” start out with an attention-grabbing line. It may be something that drew you to the job or the company, or even a quality or passion of yours you want to drive home. It’s wise to avoid humor, as it can fall flat. Just as important is a closing that indicates your next action. If you’re letting the prospective employer know you’re looking forward to hearing back, include an email or cell phone number.
  • Personalize your letter. Your cover letter should be customized to the company, position and hiring manager. While it may not be immediately clear in the job description who is doing the hiring, your research will come in handy here. Also, be sure to mention the job title for which you’re applying (albeit in a creative way) in the cover letter in case this hiring manager has several different positions open.
  • Demonstrate your experience, and show your personality. You’ve done your research, so you should be able to pinpoint something the company’s been grappling with – and, most importantly, tell them how you can solve it. Then share a solid example of how you’ve done so in the past. This will give them the confidence and proof you’re capable. Beyond demonstrating your abilities, the cover letter is a place to let the real you shine through. There’s not much opportunity to let your personality show on a resume, so do it in the cover letter. If your letter is too generic, a hiring manager may think you lack originality or didn’t think the job was important enough to put forth real effort.
  • Mind the details. If the technical aspects of your cover letter aren’t on point, hiring managers won’t get as far as the message. Keep it to one page with a 10- or 12-point readable font (like Times New Roman, Arial or Calibri) and use paragraphs to separate your ideas. Check your spelling and grammar on the entire document twice, especially the hiring manager’s name and the company name. Don’t be afraid to use bullet points to help you draw attention to major achievements. Hiring managers are busy, so getting to the point is preferred.

It will take you some time and focus to research then craft your perfect cover letter, but if it will help your resume rise to the top and land that dream job, it will be worth your effort.

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