Monday, 24 February 2014

How to Write a Cover Letter

The cover letter can be one of the critical steps in getting you an interview. No matter what your career goal, the first thing you need to be is a salesperson because the product you are selling is yourself. The cover letter is your first hurdle.

How to write a cover letter - update

Since writing this post, I read this fantastic article on writing a cover letter for an employment application written by NPR. I learned a lot from it, in particular, the first part about not beginning the letter with the redundant phrase, "I am writing to..." Since you are obviously writing, the much more succinct phrase "I am applying..." would be an improvement. I notice a similar issue in essays that use phrases such as "In a study..." or "It is the purpose of this essay to show..."

I shouldn't have to tell you that networking is a key part of developing your career and the social networking site LinkedIn is one of the key places to do that. Unlike Facebook, you can present your most professional self on LinkedIn without all the cute cat pictures. Here's an article I found on LinkedIn on writing a great cover letter. By the way, my LinkedIn connections can get a 10% discount on editing business documents such as cover letters, when you access the "Special for LinkedIn Members" link through my LinkedIn profile.

The cover letter has one goal: to get your resume into the pile of people who will potentially be interviewed. It has to be concise and outstanding. It serves as your introduction, and remember: you never get a second chance at a first impression.

The first step in writing a cover letter is introducing yourself. It begins with a salutation (greeting). If there is any way to find out the name of the person doing the hiring, address the letter to him or her. Do some research to find out the name of the hiring manager, personnel manager, or supervisor, depending on the company you are applying to. You can even phone the receptionist. Having the right name (and spelled correctly!) is one way to differentiate yourself from the pack. Otherwise, use "Sir or Madam". The salutation begins with "Dear" and ends with a semicolon.
Dear Sir or Madam;
Next, you identify which position you are applying for and when and where you saw the ad. If there was no ad, then simply identify the position.
I am applying for an entry-level accountant position in response to your advertisement on February 24, 2014 in the Wall Street Journal.
While you were researching the name of the hiring manager, you should also have been researching the company. Show your knowledge about what they do and demonstrate your research skills by mentioning something about the company.
I am excited to have the opportunity to apply to Joe's Accounting Inc. Your company has been recognized for its achievements with the Accountant of the Year Award presented to your managing Partner Joe Accountant, and your contributions to the community through Big Brothers and the Food Bank are well-known. I also noticed that you were awarded the contract to audit General Motors recently. I believe that employment at Joe's Accounting would give me the opportunity to learn from some of the most respected accountants in the tri-state area.
Now you need to begin selling yourself. If there are professional qualifications required for the position, make sure these are up front. If the ad specified some skills or qualifications, then these must be put in the cover letter near the beginning. Don't assume the reader will also look at your resume.
I believe I would make an excellent candidate for this position, as I am a recent graduate of the State University Business School with a concentration in Accounting. In addition I hold a C.A. designation.
Follow this with some statements of your best recent achievements relevant to the position. You didn't have to win the Nobel Prize, but you need to put yourself ahead of the competition in some way. This should be a new paragraph.
As you can see from my attached resume, I have been working in a bookkeeping position while I was attending school. In addition, as a member of the Accounting Club at State University, I provided tax and financial planning advice to senior citizens in our volunteer clinic. For my efforts in the community, in 2013 I was awarded a certificate of citizenship by Mayor Joe Quimby.
 In your final paragraph, sum up your experience, supply any special elements about yourself, and invite the hiring manager to contact you. Even though all your contact information should be on your resume, you should repeat it here.
I am excited about the possibility of working for Joe's Accounting.  I am available for an interview at your convenience. Please contact me at 000-0000-0000 or through my email: email@email.com.
One final note: if this is your first job, get a professional email address. Even though any company will likely provide you with a company email address after you are hired, professional@email.com is more likely to get a reply than bigbeerdrinker@email.com.

And do I need to say this? Proofread. Proofread. Proofread. And get someone else to proofread as well.
Updated February 28, 2017.