Back in October, I wrote a piece on How to Create a Perfect Resumé. With a new year fast approaching, it’s an ideal time for unemployed (or underemployed) job hunters to update those resumés and resume their search. Before you send out those applications, however, you need to know how to compose a flawless cover letter. No matter how impressive your resumé is, the cover letter is the first thing a prospective employer sees, so you’ll want to make it just as impressive as the resumé you worked so hard to perfect.
Along with identifying the exact position you are applying for, cover letters give you a chance to market yourself by highlighting the skills and credentials that make you an appealing candidate. If done right, your cover letter will persuade whoever is reading it that you would be an absolutely perfect fit for the job.
I won’t be the first person to offer advice on how to write a great cover letter, but not all of the advice out there is indispensable. For example, the notion that a cover letter should be in sent in PDF format (identified by Forbes contributor Seth Porges in his article “6 Secrets to Writing a Great Cover Letter”) is highly debatable. Personally, I think .doc is the best format for resumés and cover letters because you can open them on any computer or smart device regardless of what programs or operating system may be installed. I also think it’s rather redundant to say that you should start strongly or close strongly—your cover letter should be short enough that every sentence counts towards making a good impression.
In light of the heaps of extraneous advice found on the Internet and elsewhere, I will outline what I feel are the key points to keep in mind when writing a cover letter.
1) Customize it. You should never copy and paste the bio/profile from your resumé into your cover letter—you must always tailor your cover letter for the specific position. Make sure to reiterate the key words found in the job posting or classified ad, so that whoever reads it can tell that you understand exactly what the job requires; for example, if communication and people skills are listed in the section outlining desired expertise and experience, state that “I believe my strengths as a communicator and my interpersonal skills make me a suitable candidate for this position.”
2) Keep it brief. A prospective employer is more likely to quickly skim your cover letter than to read each sentence carefully, so say what needs to be said in as few words as possible. Keep it crisp, clear and concise, and never write more than three or four short paragraphs.
3) Display confidence, but never boast. Try not to exert overweening confidence in your cover letter; arrogance is not what employers are looking for. Avoid statements like, “I am certain that I am the best candidate for this job, and if you were to grant me an interview I am sure you would reach the same conclusion.” Don’t misrepresent yourself in any way—honesty is the best policy!
If you follow these guidelines, along with basic considerations of style and grammar, any cover letters you write in the future are bound to make positive impressions on prospective employers.