Cover Letter Tips
Cover letters are specialized business letters intended to convince a someone screening job applicants that you deserve an interview. With increasing automation and less time for screening, most companies skim cover letters for key words and concepts they value.
All design guidelines are merely guidelines — sometimes you need to break the rules.
Despite the declining weight of cover letters, they are still an essential part of most job hunts. You still want to format the letter properly and adhere to conventions. It is essential that your cover letter look professional, especially if letters are destined to be sorted quickly or even automatically by software.
When composing a career-search cover letter, remember that the constraints of a single-page mean you have to be concise. Generally, a cover letter is only three to four paragraphs, not counting the closing. The content of a cover letter should accomplish the following:
- Introduce your background in terms of job skills;
- Demonstrate knowledge of the potential employer;
- Express your future career and personal goals;
- Illustrate your problem solving skills; and
- Explain how you “fit” within the hiring organization.
Before the body of letter, be sure that you address the letter and make the salutation to a specific person. If it is impossible to identify the person, write to a specific position. Normally, you can locate the person in charge using online resources, company directories, or even calling the company.
A common question is if the letter should be addressed to someone in human resources or the supervisor of the position to which you are applying. Career guides differ on this, but we believe addressing the supervisor implies an understanding of the organization.
Introduce yourself in the first paragraph, but do not begin the letter “My name is….” The first paragraph also demonstrates interest in a specific job position and a familiarity with the company. Indicate an interest in a position or opening, but do not explain where or how you learned about the opening unless someone influential led you to the opening. If the company wants to know how you learned of an opening, someone will ask.
Problem: A specific problem encountered within a workplace setting. It
should only be personnel-related in rare cases, such as when applying
for a management or HR position.
Action: The action(s) you took to address the problem.
Results: The quantifiable results of your actions, indicating the problem was resolved or the situation improved measurably.
Discuss your qualification and experiences in the second paragraph. Remember that your résumé will do most of the work communicating about previous jobs, so highlight only the most recent or most impressive accomplishments. One of the techniques used to demonstrate skills is the PAR statement. A PAR statement details a workplace problem, the actions your took to address the problem, and the quantifiable results of your actions.
The third paragraph connects your skills with the needs of the potential employer. Be careful not to imply the company is not outstanding; you are offering to improvement. If the company wasn’t already attractive, you would not be seeking a position with the organization.
The content of a cover letter is all about what you can do for the potential employer. While you must reflect on past accomplishments, the real focus is on the future. A cover letter should not:
- Disparage former coworkers, supervisors, or employers;
- Exaggerate your contributions to projects; or
- Read like a “sales pitch” with artificial enthusiasm.
Tone and Style
Just as important as the factual information included in the cover letter is the tone of the letter. Trying to sound “professional” can sound artificial, especially if you attempt to prove knowledge by using jargon and technical terms. Read your letter aloud and if it sounds odd, it probably is awkward. Having someone else read aloud to you can be useful.
Enthusiasm should be genuine. Avoid “gushing” praise for the hiring organization, particular divisions, and products. Somehow demonstrate your enthusiasm for a company and its products is genuine.
There are also some language choices that should be avoided. Don’t “feel” something about yourself: know or even believe, but don’t feel. Statements should be simple and declarative. Also, Delete modifiers, such as “very” and “extremely” when describing yourself or the target organization. Use nouns more than adjectives and adverbs.
You should use a standard business letter format for the cover letter. We suggest using a template, since most word processors include business letter samples. If you do not have a template, follow these basic guidelines:
- Don’t forget the basics: addresses, dates, and closing with contact information;
- Use a common font such as Times New Roman at 12-points, in case you need to email the letter;
- Place the date between addresses, with a gap above and below the date; and
- Use block paragraphs with no indentations for most business correspondence.