Last month we gave you a few suggestions on what to include in your cover letter. This month, we’re going to focus a little more on the actual structure of the cover letter. Remember, an effective cover letter could be the difference between getting your foot in the door for an interview…or not.
Basic Look of a Cover Letter A cover letter should be a single page that is three or four paragraphs in length. No more, no less. A cover letter that is too long could take the employer too long to read, if the frustration doesn’t prevent them from getting to the end of it first. A short, concise cover letter will be appreciated by the employer as they scour through hundreds of other applications.
The Opening Paragraph Use the first paragraph to identify yourself, where you are coming from (meaning the school you graduated from), what position you are applying for, and a brief overview of why you think you are a good fit for the position or are applying for the job. Remember though, this is your chance to grab the employer’s attention, so try to keep away from dull and dreary introductions such "My name is," "I went to X school," and "I am applying for Y position." Spice it up a little and make an honest effort to grab the employer's attention.
The Middle Paragraphs (The Second and Sometimes Third) The middle paragraphs of your cover letter are used to convey 2 types of information. The first is a description of your skills and experience and why the employer should be interested in them. In other words, a more detailed account of why you feel you are a good candidate for the job. You can start off simply by stating your educational background, followed by relevant employment experience. Try to avoid repeating word-for-word what will follow in your resume. Pick your best skills and demonstrate them using examples from you’re your previous experience. Match these experiences as much as possible to the company’s requirements. Depending on your age and experience, the middle part of your resume may contain 2 or 3 paragraphs. The more experience you have, the more difficult it will be to squeeze it all into 1 paragraph. A second middle paragraph is acceptable if your skills and experience warrant it. If not, don’t waste your time or the employer’s. Try your best only to convey facts and avoid "tooting your horn."
The Closing Paragraph The final paragraph is used to confirm the items that are included in the application package. This should include your resume, any required transcripts or copies of relevant documents from your work portfolio, and likely your references as well. It should also invite the employer to contact you (meaning you should include your phone number at the very least, as well as your email address) and to thank them for their time and consideration of your application. End the cover letter with professionally with "Sincerely" or another suitable closing.
A Few Other Quick Tips:
- Maintain a business tone, avoid slang or jokes
- Be consistent in the type of paper, heading, font, etc. you use as on your résumé
- Type your full name when ending the cover letter and remember to sign it
- After double-checking for spelling and grammatical errors, have somebody else read over it
- Date the cover letter the day you send it out