If you had a chance to write or tune up your resume with last month’s tips, good for you! You are making progress on your goal of seeing some career-related changes this year. But the writing work is not finished yet. This month we’re concentrating on the (often) dreaded and (sometimes) confusing cover letter. Along with your resume, cover letters give you a chance to present your qualifications and experience in a way that is unique to you. While they are brief and to the point, they also let your personality shine.
Good news: cover letters usually have only three paragraphs and are less than one page long. Not-so-fun news: you should be prepared to customize a cover letter for each position you apply to. Hopefully, after you write the first one, customizing will be a piece of cake. But, first things first:
Paragraph 1: The introduction paragraph should, well, introduce you; your career goals and interests and how they align with the position and company. Use this paragraph to briefly explain why you are interested and describe what you can offer to help them meet their goals. (It will be unique to each company; that’s why you customize.) This paragraph is your chance to let them learn a little bit about you.
If possible, find the name of the recruiter or hiring manager so you can personalize the salutation. If you are unable to find it, using the wording “Dear Hiring Team” is OK. It’s warmer and friendlier than “Dear Sir or Madame”.
Paragraph 2: The second paragraph is the longest and it’s where you provide the details about why you are a good fit for this position. Summarize your skills and relevant experience. Be specific and include any accomplishments achieved while using these transferable skills. You can use key words from the job description but don’t just copy and paste from your resume. Use your cover letter to show the hiring team how you stand out from the crowd of candidates.
Paragraph 3: The third paragraph is short and it’s your conclusion. A couple of sentences, including a “thank you for your consideration”, are all that’s needed.
Although there will be some degree of formality, write your cover letter in the same tone you would use when speaking with a co-worker. Leave out the jargon and fancy words and communicate as you would at work. You’ll sound human and approachable and someone they’ll want on their team.
And if the idea of writing a cover letter sounds like too much effort right now, just write one paragraph today. Or even just a sentence or two; that’s it. Tomorrow, write two more and, by week’s end, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how much you’ve accomplished.