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Cover letters are often viewed as basic communication to accompany your resume when mailing to employer. Don't underestimate the power and importance of the cover letter. A good cover letter should be divided into specific paragraphs and should be laid out in professional business-style format.
Once you have developed a draft of your cover letter, please feel free to bring it to the Career Services Office for a critique. We suggest that you bring your cover letter in both paper and electronic form when you visit us for a critique.
Developing quality written correspondence in your job search (besides resumes) is one of the most important aspects of the entire process - and often the most neglected. People spend days, even weeks creating the perfect resume. However, when it comes to composing an effective letter, most people find the best example available, make a few changes and produce a letter that can be used for almost anything. Unfortunately, employers can spot these a mile away.
There are a number of important points you should keep in mind as you write to employers. This includes all types of job search correspondence, not just cover letters.
A cover letter should accompany every resume that you send out. They compliment each other and work as a team. The purpose of the letter is to personalize your resume for the employer and enable you to elaborate more fully on your qualifications.
Planning your Cover Letter
To write a persuasive cover letter, you should research the specific position and organization. This will enable you to match your qualifications and qualities to those required by the employer. Read literature available from the company, through the Career Services office or on the Web. Carefully analyze the advertisement or job description. Talk with employers within the organization and other professionals in similar positions. Knowing as much as you can about your potential responsibilities will help you articulate how what you have to offer is a good match for what they need.
Your Letter Has to Stand Out
In today's job market, most employers are swamped with many applications for every position that is open. It is not unusual to have 100 or more applications per opening. You need to set yourself apart in some way. You must find a way to convince the employer to pick up the phone and invite you for an interview.
All cover letters are different, but there are essentially four main sections: the contact information, the introduction (one paragraph), the body (one or two paragraphs), and the closing (one paragraph).
This is a business letter and should be in business letter format. Start off with your address, followed by today's date. Skip a line and continue with the first and last name of the contact and their address. Use only their last name in the salutation.
The first sentence should state why you are writing. For example, "I am writing to apply for the position of research assistant, as advertised in..." If prospecting for unadvertised openings, an introduction could be "I'm writing to establish my candidacy in the event an opening occurs for which I am qualified." Name any direct referrals in the very beginning of this paragraph - just make sure you have the person's permission to use their name! You also want to personalize this letter to a particular organization - convey to them that you are interested in them specifically and this is not a form letter. An example could be "Dr. Waters in the English department suggested I contact you regarding a position as a journalist with The Oswego Herald. I understand that your recent merger with the Fulton Times has created a need for qualified and enthusiastic reporters."
This is the place to communicate your skills and experiences to an employer - you must sell yourself. Although you don't want to repeat what is on your resume, you do want to write about some of the highlights that are most relevant to the employer. You need to balance confidence and humility as you paint a picture of the type of person they want to hire by describing your prior experience. An example could be "As a Public Relations intern, I created and implemented promotional strategies that resulted in a 75% increase in student involvement. I also wrote press releases and worked with local mass media outlets. I believe this experience will enable me to make outstanding contributions to your organization." Or "After taking several related courses and visiting alumni in the career field, I have decided to pursue a career in industrial psychology. As you will note in my resume, I presented a paper on worker satisfaction as it correlates to overtime. Last year I was an intern at Xerox Corp. in their Human Resources department, where I was exposed to many issues dealing with hiring and benefits administration. With my interpersonal skills, academic accomplishments and related experience, I would work hard to be an effective member of your staff."
You'll want to thank them for their time and consideration of your credentials. The important part of this paragraph is to set up a next step. This can include reasserting your interest in the position and arranging for a specific time you will contact the employer. Avoid endings which lack assertiveness such as "Please contact me..." Don't leave the initiative and offer for an interview up to an employer. Since you shouldn't be mass mailing your resume, you should be able to do enough research and follow up with each employer. Some examples of closures are: "I will call within two weeks to follow up with this letter", or "I will be available to interview during the week of March 15th. I will call within one week to discuss the possibility of setting up a meeting." Don't forget to sign your name (it happens!).
• Address your letter to the person who has the power to hire you. Don't hesitate to call the company to find out the name (and correct spelling) and title of the appropriate person. You don't need to tell the person on the phone that you are looking for a job - simply state that you are sending correspondence and want to ensure it gets to the right person. If you can't get the name of the appropriate person, send it directly to the President. If he/she is impressed, he/she may contact you directly. If not, he/she will forward it to Human Resources where it will get more attention than it normally would have. Avoid sending it generically to the H.R. department unless you have a contact person there or are applying for a position in H.R.
• Keep your letter short. It should be one page with three to four paragraphs. It should be concise and to the point. It is a business letter, not an essay about your life experiences.
• Each cover letter should be individually written and typed in order to show focus and commitment to that organization. If the letter reads as if it could be sent to a number of different employers, it is probably destined for the trash.
• Research the employer. Nothing will impress an employer more than your letter describing what uniquely interests you about their organization.
• Time your letter and resume appropriately. Do not send them out the day after the ad is run. Wait several days after the first wave of resumes may have arrived. The likelihood of your letter and resume being read is greater if it is one out of 3 or 4 rather an 1 out of 30. Also, consider sending it express - those letters may receive more attention than first class mail. Avoid having your letter arrive on Mondays (the heaviest mail day). Time your follow up phone calls about three days after your letter arrives and avoid calling Monday morning or Friday afternoons (people may be thinking about the weekend).
• Try to set up a meeting even if no opening exists. If the person is impressed with you, he/she will probably call when an opening does occur. Also, the person you meet may have advice or even solid leads which you may not have gotten without a meeting.
• Count the "I's" - if you use the word "I" more than three or four times to start your sentences, you may want to change your sentences so that the word "I" is eliminated. For example, "I have had experience in..." could be changed to "My experience includes..."
• Use the same quality bond paper for your cover letter that you used for your resume. Laser print each letter for a professional look.
• Employers will be using your cover letter to assess your communication and writing abilities. Make sure there are no typos or grammatical errors in your letter, as this is a sure sign of carelessness. Once you write your first draft, take a break or come back to it the next day for another review. Have other people proof read your letter.
Scannable Cover Letters
If you think your cover letter will be fed into a computerized scanning system, use a basic font (size 12-14) and emphasize key words to describe your relevant experience. Do not fold or use staples; use a paper clip. See the Career Services handout on Scannable Resumes or the book on electronic resumes under "Career Services Resources" later in this handout.
Other Job Search Letters
The cover letter is only one type of correspondence related to your job or career search. Here are some others:
Letter to request an information interview
Here you are introducing yourself to someone with whom you would like to speak regarding his/her career field, specific position, organization, advice about appropriate job search strategies, etc. This letter should follow most of the rules of cover letters with the following exceptions:
• You should not include a resume. If the contact receives a resume, you will probably be considered a job applicant regardless of what your letter says. If the reader has no openings, he/she may choose not to meet with you. You can, however, bring the resume to the interview itself to help the interviewer understand your background and respond to your questions.
• Remember to ask for a 30 minute meeting. Usually people are more likely to agree to meet with you for a short time - and end up spending more time with you anyway. Please review our "Networking and Informational Interview" handout.
Letter to follow up after an interview
These are usually called Thank You letters, but saying thank you is only part of the reason for writing them. Please see the Career Services handout on Thank You Letters.
•Keep it very brief - two or three paragraphs should be enough.
• Send it out as soon as you can following the interview - ideally within 24 hours. If you have new information to add, you'll want the employer to have this before they make their final decision.
• Be sure to reaffirm your interest in the position and reiterate your best qualifications and qualities.
Letter of acceptance
After you receive an offer and have accepted it over the telephone, follow-up with a brief letter accepting the position and outlining the specifics as you understand them, such as salary, starting date, hours, benefits, who your supervisor will be, and any other relevant information. Your employer may provide a copy of your offer letter requiring your signature. Be sure to read this carefully to make sure the letter is accurate before you sign and return.
Letter to withdraw from consideration
This letter can be used when you decide that you no longer have an interest in being considered for an employment opportunity. If you have accepted another offer, immediately notify all other employers of your decision and withdraw your candidacy. This letter should thank the employer for his/her consideration. You should state that your decision was related to a better fit between your skills/interests/abilities and the other opportunity at this stage in your career. Do not burn bridges - be courteous and keep the door open for future possibilities.
Letter to reject an offer
Keep this carefully written letter brief. Indicate that this was a difficult decision to make and that you have given it serious consideration - you don't have to state your reason for declining the offer. Be sure to thank the employer for his/her time and again, be positive and keep the doors open for the future.
Letter to follow up when you were NOT offered a position
If you were very interested in a position for which you did not receive an offer, you can send a letter to reemphasize your interest and communicate your regrets. Communicate why you thought you were a good match for the organization's needs. The person to whom you were writing may move on to a different organization and may become interested in you as a candidate in his/her new organization.
Letter to an alumnus
Be sure to mention your mutual tie to SUNY @ Oswego - perhaps give them a quick update of what the current issues on campus are. Mention where you found their name. Always ask for career advice, never directly for a job.
General Tips for all Letters
• Make your letters look aesthetically pleasing. Laser print it out on quality bond paper.
• Perfection is key: no typos, no misspellings, no factual errors. Once you spell check the letter, proof read it very carefully and have others do the same.
• Keep a copy of every letter you send out. When you make follow-up phone calls, it is always helpful to have a copy of your letter in front of you to know exactly what you said to this particular person - especially since all of your letters will be different.
SAMPLE COVER LETTER
Your Street Address
City, State ZIP
Mr./Ms. First and Last Name of Employer
Title of Employer
City, State ZIP
Dear Mr./Ms. Last Name of Employer:
Your opening paragraph should state why you are writing. Name the position for which you are applying and the source of the listing. Give information to show your specific interest in his/her company - it is imperative that you "personalize" your letter to each organization. Name any direct referral person(s) in this paragraph.
Your middle paragraph(s) should highlight your qualifications. Refer the reader to your resume in terms of your general qualifications. Give details of your background that will show the reader why she/he should consider you as a candidate. If you have relevant experience or related education, be sure to point it out, but do not reiterate your entire resume. Remember that many employers utilize the cover letter to judge your writing and communication skills.
You could add an additional paragraph to go into more experiences that will highlight your qualifications. Be sure to emphasize your skills, qualifications, abilities and personal traits that relate to the job for which you are applying. Be confident in this letter but not arrogant.
In this last paragraph, you want to ask for action by stating how you will take the next step. You can state that you will contact the employer within a specific time to follow up with this letter or to set up a possible meeting at his/her convenience.
(sign your name - black or blue ink)
Type your name