Write a Cover Letter that Rocks

“How come they’re not responding?” “Are they even reading my application?” When you’re sending out resumes by the truckload and not getting so much as a bite, it’s natural to wonder what the problem is. Before you drive yourself crazy, however, it’s worth noting that the issue may actually be your cover letter. This is what you should know about writing a cover letter that scores interviews.  

What You Should Include in Your Cover Letter

Your contact information

Your contact information, including your name, address, and email, should be at the top of a cover letter. You can center them at the top of the page.  

The company's contact information

In any formal business letter, you should include the name and address of the company you are writing to. You can include this information right above the salutation, aligned with the left-hand margin.  

Salutation

While the standard salutation for a business letter is "To whom it may concern:", hiring managers get a little bored seeing this all the time. If you know the name of the person in charge of hiring for the job you're applying to, you should always address your cover letter directly to this person, for example, "Dear Mr. Li:".  

Your reason for writing

Your reader will be going through numerous applications and may even be attempting to fill several different positions at once. Make sure that your name, the position you're applying for, and where you found out about the position are clearly stated. 

Background

What makes you the ideal candidate? Do you have a relevant degree? Did you work for a major company? Have you done any related volunteer work? Be sure to list specifics, and don't just rehash what your resume says. Instead, read the job listing very carefully and explain how your experience intersects with what the company is looking for.  

Requested information

Employers are looking for people who can follow instructions. Sometimes details like the type of font, preferred hand-in methods, and extra information are listed in the advertisement that you're responding to.  

Closing statement

Close your letter by letting the hiring manager know how to contact you for more information or by promising to follow up within a certain period of time. Be sure that you do call if you say you will in your cover letter.  

Sign off

You should end a cover letter with:

Sincerely, [Your Signature] [Your Full Name]

If you are sending in a cover letter electronically, write your signature on a piece of paper and scan it to your computer. You can then cut out signature in the resulting image file in a program like MS Paint or Preview and insert it into your cover letter. Note that many public libraries have scanners for patrons to use.  

Formatting Your Cover Letter

When formatting a cover letter, think back to the papers you wrote in school. You can't go wrong with 12-point Times New Roman font and 1" margins all around. If you decide not to use Times New Roman, make sure that the font you choose is readable and common. This is not the time to break out the fancy fonts and formatting. If you’re sending a hardcopy cover letter via snail mail, wide margins are especially important, as they will make it easier for you to use a hole puncher before placing your application in a duo-tang or binder and sending it off.  

A Tale of Two Cover Letters

Cover Letter #1

To whom it may concern, Please consider this my application for the position of marketing consultant at Generica Marketing Consultants. I saw an advertisement for this job and I knew that I was perfect for this position. After graduating with my B.A. in Marketing, I worked for a marketing agency for several years. I participated in a number of successful projects and I gained a lot of experience working with decision-makers for positive mutual outcomes. I’m a “team player” who has worked with a number of personalities over the years, but I can also work independently. My flexibility is what will make me an asset to your company. You’ll find my resume attached. Thank you for your consideration and I look forward to hearing from you. Sincerely, Jane Smith

This isn’t a bad cover letter. It covers the applicant’s background, it explains why there’s a resume being sent in the first place, and it likely hits all the key points the employer’s looking for. But it doesn't look very professional, and would it get you interested in hearing more from Jane Smith? Here’s another cover letter for comparison. Cover Letter #2

Jane Smith 2272 Main Street Small City, State ***** (807)555-5535 jane_smith@gmail.com

June 27, 2013
Elaine Brown Director of Human Resources Generica Marketing Consultants 1684 Street SW Small City, State *****
Dear Ms. Brown: I learned about the marketing consultant job opening at Generica Marketing Consultants from a colleague of yours, Dr. James Jones. He told me that he had worked with you on several company projects before you changed departments. I’m confident that my combination of experience and education will make me an asset to your company. Generica Marketing Consultants has stipulated that one of its missions is to help its clients save money. After I graduated with my B.A. in Marketing, I was employed for two years by Salvica Advertising. Over the course of my employment, I worked with business decision-makers to come up with customized plans that would allow their organizations to profit from leads they already had. Sales increased by a full 25% for each of those companies. I’d love to translate some of those numbers to Generica Marketing as a consultant. You’ll find my resume attached. I will contact you within the next two weeks via e-mail to make sure you got my cover letter and resume. I’ll also be able to answer any questions you may have about my application. Sincerely, Jane Smith

Characteristics of Highly Effective Cover Letters

There are two things to note when comparing the first cover letter with the second.  

Specifics

The first letter is very vague. That can’t always be helped when it comes to names, but the vagueness of Jane’s first cover letter when it came to subjects like where she’d worked and what projects she’d been involved with was a problem.  

Focus

This first cover letter talked about the qualities Jane had that would have made her perfect for the position. The problem is, decision-makers are more interested in finding out what applicants can do for their companies. The moral of the story is this: when you’re writing a cover letter, make sure that it addresses what the company is looking for. By zooming in on the details, you’ll make your application stand out that much more. Good luck!