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Essential Steps in Writing that Great Cover Letter

Successful cover letters are not created in a vacuum. In order to write that great cover letter, you first have to perform some specific tasks that will ensure you present yourself in the best light possible. Additionally, in writing the letter, it's important to understand and utilize the proper format.

This article focuses on what you need to do prior to writing your cover letter and how to properly format your letter. These are the first two steps towards presenting yourself in a positive, professional manner to your perspective employer.

Prior to Writing the Cover Letter

There are four steps to take before you sit down to write the actual letter. They are simple but extremely important. Basically, you're doing your homework and showing your prospective employer that you care enough about the job to put some time into getting to know and understand the organization or business.

1. Research: The first step is researching your possible employer. Knowing the structure of the organization, budget, philosophy and other information will help you write or adjust your resume, create your cover letter and prepare for a possible interview. Some important questions to consider include:

  • What is the company's mission?
  • What distinguishes them from other organizations?
  • What are their special causes or concerns?
  • How old is the company and what is its history?
  • How has the company changed over the years?
  • How large is the organization?
  • What is its hierarchical structure?
  • How sound is it fiscally?

2. Write or Update Your Resume: Your resume is your calling card, and along with the cover letter, it is a direct representation of you. Along with chronicling your experiences, education, and training, proper execution of your resume reveals a lot about the type of worker you will be.

  • The resume must be accurate and up-to-date.
  • Tailor it to the job for which you're applying.
  • Proof read it.
  • If mailing it, put it on quality paper.

3. Read the Job Description Carefully: Take some time and read the job description numerous times. Make sure you look for and understand the following:

  • Education and training requirements.
  • Skills and experience that are required.
  • Type of person for which they are looking.
  • Salary range.
  • Whether it is full-time or part-time and permanent or temporary.
  • Additional skills, background or education desired.

4. Determine who is in Charge: If you get this job, you'll have someone to whom you must report. Find out who that person is. To do so:

  • Research the company website.
  • If you know someone at the company ask them.
  • Also ask that person for any insights they can give you.
  • Talk to people you know in the industry.
  • If all else fails, call Human Resources to get the name and title of the person.

Proper Cover Letter Format and Content

The cover letter should be in the right format. Once again, like your resume, people will judge you instantly on how your letter looks and that will occur prior to reading it.

1. Basic Format: Cover letter elements conform to a specific look. Knowing how to set up your cover letter is a requirement if you want to present yourself in a professional manner. Note: if applying online and if the letter will not be printed, these aspects are less important. The basic cover letter elements include:

  • Your contact information in the upper left hand corner, one inch from the top:

o Name.
o Street address.
o Phone number.
o Email address.

  • Drop down four lines and enter the date.
  • Drop down four more lines and enter the company information, including:

o Name of contact person.
o Name of company.
o Company address.

  • Drop down four more lines and enter the greeting.

o If possible, use the last name of the contact person.
o Try to avoid "Dear Sir" or "Dear Madam."
o Never use "To Whom It May Concern."
o Spell the contact person's name correctly.

2. The Body: The body of the cover letter should be three to four paragraphs long with specific paragraphs containing the following information.

  • Paragraph One:

o Open by telling the company for what job you are applying.
o Tell them why you are specifically interested in the job.
o If someone they know recommended you apply state that.
o Make the first paragraph dynamic.

  • Paragraph Two and Three:

o Outline your qualifications.
o Connect them to the employment opportunity.
o Reveal what you can do for them.
o Give specific examples regarding your abilities.
o Use facts and specifics about the company.

  • Paragraph Four:

o This needs to include a positive statement or interesting question that serves as a call to action to the potential employer.
o Mention that your resume is enclosed or attached.
o Let them know you're available for an interview.
o If you intend to follow up with a phone call state that.
o Thank them for their time and consideration.

3. Closing: This is simple but like the greeting, important. End your letter with one of the following:

  • "Yours Sincerely" if the letter is addressed to someone specific.
  • "Regards" may also be used.
  • "Yours Faithfully" if you used "Dear Sir/Madam."
  • Type your name four lines after the closing.
  • Sign your name in blue ink between the closing and your typed name.

4. Proof Read: This is essential. Both the cover letter and resume must be carefully proof read. This does not mean just spell checking it. Proof reading involves your reading the letter with care.

  • Proof read aloud. Why? When we read silently, we do not read every word. You may have left out a word and often won't see it if you proof read silently.
  • Check punctuation and all spelling.
  • Make sure your letter sounds professional.
  • Avoid passive sentence constructions.
  • Make yourself an active participant in the letter.
  • Do not use contractions.
  • Do not end sentences with a preposition.
  • The letter should be one-page.
  • The tone should be positive.

Present Yourself Professionally with Your Cover Letter

These are the steps to take prior to writing your cover letter and the elements to include and path to follow when creating your letter. Adhering to this disciplined approach will cause a potential employer to notice you, showing them that you care enough about the job and the company to spend some time and put some real effort into your application.


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