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How to Write a Cover Letter: Tips and Example

Updated on September 17, 2012
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Starting Out

Writing a cover letter can be intimidating because we often don't know quite how to organize the information, or don't even know where to begin.

It does not have to be as much of a task as it often tends to be. With several steps related to organizing your own personal information and developing your words to fit the company which you are applying for, you can write an effective cover letter that will land you an interview.

Organizing Information

The first step to writing a good cover letter is to assemble all of the relevant information you have about yourself. This does not mean telling the employer everything there possibly is to know about yourself. You must consider the position you are applying for and gather relevant information that you think the company will consider a benefit to you being in that job. Keep in mind that this information needs to coincide with your resume.

You must put yourself in the shoes of the person in charge of hiring. What would that person be asking his or herself when reading resumes and cover letters. They will be asking....

Why do I care?

The information presented in your cover letter needs to answer this question. For example, if you are applying for a job in an accounting firm as an internal auditor, do you think the hiring professional cares that you very much enjoy kayaking in the summer? Doubtful.

The information you plan to put in the letter will obviously depend on the person. Are you a recent college graduate with little or no work experience? Gear your information towards particular skills and any awards you have received while in college. This might be abilities in group work, honor society inductions, scholarships, critical thinking skills, etc. These are your selling points. Also, if you are recent grad with no work experience in working in a professional environment, don't underestimate the value of a part time retail or restaurant job. You have learned more than you think you have at these places.If you have been in the workforce for a while, you will want to gear your cover letter towards describing the skills acquired from previous employers. Remember, the information you wish to include will need to relate to the job you are applying for. So you will need to alter it for everywhere you apply.

Describing Yourself

Once you have gathered the information you want to include in the letter, the next task is to describe why each particular skill or honor is a benefit to the company. Again, the company does not care if you were in a fraternity if you cannot describe why it will help you in your career. Tell them why they should care.

  • If you have led a team at a previous employer, do not simply state that you were a team leader. Describe how leading a team of people has taught you how to handle difficult interpersonal conflicts between individuals, or that you gained a knowledge of how to designate work to certain people evenly and fairly.
  • If you were in an honor society at school, tell the employer what that means to you. Tell them what that says about your character and who you are. Does it show you are able to achieve good results when faced with difficult academic pressures and duties? Mention that.
  • Do not think that just because you have little work experience and were not honored in school that you don't have anything to say. Being in classes, writing online, or even babysitting children are things that have built your self attributes and skill sets.

Just remember to always make sure what you are describing about yourself is something that would benefit the particular company. When doing so, state what you did specifically, then describe how that is a positive attribute that the company should invest in.

Putting it all in a Letter

Before beginning your cover letter, be sure you have all of the information you need. You will want to be sure you have:

  • Company name and street address where letter is to be sent
  • City, state, and zip of where letter is to be sent
  • Name of person to receive letter and job title (HR manager/department head)
  • Specific department of person to whom you are writing letter

Remember to never use fonts that are distracting or colors in your cover letter or resume. Use a traditional layout form and stick to a 11 or 12 pt font. Also remember to always triple check your spelling and grammar. It is a good idea to get a thesaurus out so you don't seem to repeat the words that are overused (like "skills" or "leaned")

It is usually best advised to stick to a letter consisting of four paragraphs. These paragraphs consist of"

  1. Introduction - How you learned of the job, what the job is, a statement of your interest in the position, and a couple of introductory reasons why you qualify for the job (degree in the field, previous experience related to job)
  2. First Attribute that Qualifies You - This is a detailed description of the first reason you are qualified for the job. If you choose a degree in the field, here is where you would describe every skill you have related to the job and what that skill has taught you that will benefit the company.
  3. Second Attribute that Qualifies You - This is a detailed description of the second reason you are qualified for the job. If for instance it is experience from a previous employer, describe the skills and qualities obtained from that experience and how it helps the company if they were to hire you.
  4. Closing - Here, I advise restating your interest in the position and discreetly asking for an interview opportunity. Tell the person who will be reading the letter that you intend to contact them to ensure they receive the letter. Also, restate your contact information and thank them for their time and attention.

See the example below for an outline and suggested organization of your cover letter.

The example below contains a real life layout of a cover letter I used to apply for an internship last year. I developed it with a well qualified instructor at my university. Remember to state your name in the top middle, and your own personal information in the top right corner from top to bottom (address, city state and zip, phone, and email)


Month Day, Year (month, ##, ####)

Name of Recipient – Title

Company

Department

Street

City, State, Zip



Dear Mrs. Johnson:

I recently learned through (name of company) career website of the marketing department internship at your headquarters in (city, state). I am very interested in this position and opportunity. I work for (Company) in (City) and very much enjoy the environment and challenge it presents to me. I will complete my bachelor degree in marketing in December of 2012. Given these two facts, along with various skills and attributes I possess, I believe I am well qualified for this internship.

My work experience has been weighted towards retail for the last five years. I have had three years’ experience working at (Company), as well as two years at (Company) as a customer service cashier. This has enabled me to develop a particularly strong ability to understand the interpersonal dynamics of working with customers and people in general. I have also acquired a thorough understanding of retail operations and how to handle the seasonal changes that occur in a store like (Company).

In addition to my work experience, I also have an educational history which fits the characteristics of the internship well. As I before stated, I will complete my bachelor degree in marketing at this end of this year. Through my marketing courses I have harnessed an acute ability to think critically about difficult problems and situations in marketing and other related areas. My success in these endeavors can be seen by my invitation to join the Beta Gamma Sigma honor society and Who’s Who Among Students. Along with academic achievements, I was also a nominee for Most Outstanding Senior Man in Business. This demonstrates not only academic success, but also positive interpersonal and characteristic traits. Many of my college courses require me to be a part of a team. Throughout my education, I have improved greatly in this area. During these times, I have always received positive feedback on peer evaluations. In another form of group work, I was asked by a professor to become his aide. During this time, I worked closely with my professor to organize tests, proctor examinations, grade the exams, and develop an Excel grading sheet with various metrics regarding the class performance. The importance and workload of these responsibilities have significantly increased my determination and confidence.

With these attributes being known and with my knowledge and passion for the company, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss with you my qualifications for the fulfillment of this position. Please reach me at (phone) or at (email). I will be contacting you in the near future to ensure your receipt of these documents. Thank you very much for your time and for your review of my resume.

Sincerely,

(Name)



Follow up

Assuming that you state you are going to follow up in the letter that you actually do. This shows the company that you are eager and excited about the opportunity. Get them to remember your name and that you called and you are more likely to be considered.

Consistency

Above all else, remember to keep the cover letter consistent with the information you provide in your resume. If you state that you worked at only two places your entire life and describe experiences at three different employers in your cover letter, the company will be led to believe you are not giving them full disclosure.

Adapt each letter

Remember that every company you apply for is different. You want to orient your letter to each particular company. It does take more time, but shows them that you are not just mailing out the same letter to a bunch of different employers. It show that you are interested in that particular company. This is what they are looking for.

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    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 4 years ago from Singapore

      Seth, useful information for all seeking employment. Often, people forget the real things employers want to know about, and thanks for bringing them to light in this useful way. Thanks for the great write. I share this, and vote up.

    • Sethughes profile image
      Author

      Sethughes 4 years ago

      Thank you very much! I was given this information and method throughout a professional selling class and it has benefited me greatly. Thank you very much for reading, sharing and for your vote!!

    • abbyw1989 profile image

      Abby 4 years ago from Ireland

      Great tips here - I know a lot of people struggle with writing a cover letter... sometimes the cover letter will let you down even if you have a perfect CV! Thanks for a great article :)

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