Unemployed 101: The Cover Letter
The cover letter is a critical part of the application process. It serves as an introduction to a prospective employer and it is really your chance to show what you can do with regard to obvious things like written communication and spelling, as well as not so obvious skills like the ability to properly format a letter. Since the HR department that is reviewing your resume may see dozens of resumes every day, it is the responsibility of your cover letter to get the reader’s attention and make them want to see more.
The first thing to consider is your letterhead. I drafted a letterhead for use at the top of all my correspondence, including resume cover letters. It may seem unnecessary but a professional letterhead is the first thing to catch the reader’s eye, and it is therefore important.
Your information should go as follows:
- Your first and last name (middle initial optional) in a larger size. I like to use the small caps option and go up one or two sizes for this line.
- Your mailing address should take up the next two lines. I do this in simple Times New Roman in a standard size 12 font.
- Next is your telephone number, area code included. It is ok to use a cell phone number if that is your primary number and you don’t need to note that it is a cell instead of a home number. I don’t recommend adding a second number here unless you are not certain you will get messages left on the primary number you provide.
- Finally, your email address.
Making obvious adjustments for personal information, here is a photo of my letterhead
Certainly there are other options, for example a centered alignment and a multitude of other fonts. A few things I highly recommend, though, are:
- Don’t use a left alignment. Your address, date, and reference go there and it makes the letter look unbalanced.
- Your name should stand out most.
- Be sure to include updated contact information, including an email address. Also, if your current email address is something personal in nature, like firstname.lastname@example.org, consider creating a professional email account through a free server like gmail. It doesn’t cost you anything and will look much better on your cover letter.
- It is not necessary to include more than one phone number unless you don’t have an email address. If there is a second number you would prefer to add, go ahead and add it after your primary number.
- When choosing a font, remember to go for a professional look. Also, you want to shoot for something bold but not overstated.
Here is a photo of a centered example.
Now that we have the letterhead handled, the next step is proper format. Obviously your letterhead is at the top, and next is the date. This can be centered or left aligned, and in my opinion that depends on the alignment of your letterhead. I know, there are typing teachers all over the place freaking out right now but in my professional opinion there really are some options here. In general, though, I find its best to only center the date if your letterhead is centered and left align it if your letterhead is right aligned. So, since mine is right aligned I always left align my date. Here a picture of how mine looks, followed by a centered letterhead example.
Next comes the address to which you are writing. The format here is pretty standard.
Attention: Name or Department (If available)
123 Main Street, Suite 400
Anytown, OH 12345
If you have a specific name or department, be sure to include it. If not, the Attention line can be omitted.
Next is the reference line, which would just look something like this
Re: Administrative Assistant Opportunity
I like to use the word opportunity instead of job. It seems like a small detail, and perhaps it doesn’t matter, but it makes me feel a little better anyway.
The next section is the Dear line. If you don’t know the name of the person to whom you are writing, feel free to use “To Whom It May Concern:” and please note the use of the colon at the end there. Professional letters should always use the colon instead of the standard comma. If you do know the name, simply use “Dear Mr. Smith:” but keep the colon. Here is a photo of where we are so far.
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The body of the letter is obviously the most critical part. It should be short and to the point because if you get too long or wordy, the reader is going to stop paying attention or even stop reading entirely. Further, keeping the letter on the shorter side shows respect for your reader’s busy schedule.
In the first paragraph, I like to first state the reason I am writing and follow it up with some of the points about myself that I feel make me a good fit for the specific job or company. Try to incorporate the job requirements listed in the advertisement/posting if you can. For example, if the posting states proficiency in Microsoft is a plus, say something about your extensive experience with the Microsoft Suite. And finally, end the paragraph with a sentence summarizing your point, which in this case is that you are a good fit for the job and you are officially applying for it. An example might read something like this:
Attached please find my updated resume for your consideration. As you can see, I have extensive experience working as liaison between client and company to create a successful and mutually beneficial business transaction, both in a retail and call center setting, as well as in a professional office environment. I am proficient in all aspects of the Microsoft Office Suite as well as PageMaker and Photoshop. Additionally, I have excellent organization and communication skills, to include writing and interpersonal communication. I strongly believe I am an ideal fit for the position available within your company, and am therefore presenting my application for employment.
Make sure to pay special attention to each job description you apply for and modify your standard first paragraph to fit the specific position. In the example above, the description specifically requested proficiency in Office and desktop publishing software. If those requirements were not stated, that sentence can be omitted in the interest of keeping the letter more to the point.
The next paragraph is a relatively simple closing. Make sure to thank the reader for their time and ask for the interview. Your tone should show confidence and let the reader know you are sure you are a good choice for the job. An example might be:
Thank you in advance for your time and consideration. If you have any questions or concerns with regard to the information I have provided, or to schedule an interview, please do not hesitate to contact me at your convenience.
With regard to formatting the body of the letter, I like to justify the text on both sides so it lines up neatly. In my experience, it is optional to indent the first line of the paragraph but I think it looks nicer so I always do that, too.
All that is left is to format your signature. From the bottom of the letter, press Enter three times. Then, if you are using a standard word processing program like Microsoft Word or Works, press tab 7 times. Use a closing such as Sincerely or Respectfully and then a comma. Skip three or four lines and then tab back over so you are lined up under your closing and type your name the same way you sign it. For example, if you don’t sign your middle initial, don’t type it here.
Check over the letter for spelling errors and re-read it once more to make sure you are happy with it. Print it on good quality white paper and sign it between your closing and your typed name, and there you have it: your completed cover letter. Here is a photo of a completed example.
Place it on top of your resume but do not staple it, and send it out.
A well written and attractively formatted resume is key to showing a prospective employer you are smart, detail oriented, and the person they want for the position in their company.