Your cover letter/email is just as important as your resume, to many employers. A cover letter answers the question, why should I interview you? When applying for a professional position, (done online most of the time, now) you should always include a cover letter if it’s possible to do so.
You can send the cover letter as a separate document or include it in the body of the email. It’s best to include it in the body of the email unless the employer wants you to upload your application documents into a specific system. If that is the case, save your letter as a .pdf file and upload it separately from your resume.
A basic three-paragraph format is best. You should customize your cover letter for each opportunity.
First paragraph: Answer the question, why are you contacting me? Reference how you know about the opening (e.g. – you saw it online, someone referred you). If you know someone in the company, use that information in your introductory sentence. For example, “Bob Smith recommended that I write to you about your staff accountant position.” That way you grab the employer’s attention from the beginning. Then talk about what you like about the opportunity and/or compliment the company.
Second paragraph: Answer the question, why should I interview you? If there is a job description available for the position, stress how your skills and experience match the traits they desire. If you don’t have a job description, consider the position available and reference the sills or experience you have that may fit the position. For example, if you are applying for a position in sales and have customer service experience mention that you do. If you are applying for a position in accounting and feel that you have strong attention to detail, include that information. Sell yourself.
Third paragraph: Briefly thank the person for his time and consideration. Request an interview to further elaborate on your skills and experience. You can also remind the person of your contact information.
- Take care to spell the person’s name correctly, if you know to whom you are writing. If you don’t have a specific person’s name, it is okay to use the phrase “Dear Hiring Manager.”
- Spell check, spell check, spell check. Just like your resume, this document needs to be perfect.
- Watch your “I’s.” Many people start every sentence with “I.” Instead, draft your letter and then go back and circle the number of times you started with “I.” Rewrite sentences to bury the “I.” Start sentences with words or phrases like: after seeing your online posting, most importantly or lastly.
- It’s rare that a cover letter should be more than one page. Be succinct.
- Don’t mention what you don’t have. If you use sentences that include things like, “Although I don’t have a degree, you will find me to be a hard worker” you just gave the employer a reason to eliminate you from consideration.
- Check to make sure you are referencing the correct company. Many people use a template cover letter and forget to change the company name within the letter. That’s a surefire way to get your application tossed out.
Many job applicants skip the cover letter because they think it’s not necessary. Employers view it as part of the application materials. Whenever you apply for a job, you must make the most positive impression you can. A well-written cover letter will help you stand out as a worthy candidate.
Vickie Hicks is the Corporate Relations Specialist for the College of Business at Missouri State University. Hicks has over 25 years’ experience in marketing, communications and college recruiting and she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article appeared in the September 4 edition of the Springfield News-Leader and can be accessed online here.