Writing a Cover Letter

Introducing yourself
Every CV you send, fax, or e- mail needs its own cover letter. Sending a CV without a cover letter is like starting an interview without shaking hands. The best cover letters spark the employer's interest and create an impression of competence.

Cover letters are an opportunity to convey your focus and energy. If you don't have a lot of experience, use the cover letter to show you have enthusiasm. Writing a strong cover letter and then calling to follow up shows the employer you have drive and interest.

What too include
Cover letters should be written in standard business format with your and the reviewer's addresses at the top and your signature above your typed name at the bottom. (E- mailed cover letters do not include mailing addresses.) All letters should be single spaced, flush left, with each paragraph followed by a blank line. Use professional, polite words. Revealing your personality is fine, as long as your style conforms to business protocol.

Most cover letters are two or three paragraphs long. Every cover letter should fit on one page and contain the following four parts:

Whenever possible, send your letter to a specific person rather than to an office. Consider how differently you respond to a letter addressed to you, as opposed to one addressed to "Occupant." If you do not know whom to write, call the company and ask who is hiring for the position. Check that the name you use is spelled correctly and the title is accurate. Pay close attention to the Mr. or Ms. before gender- neutral names. Finally, use a colon after the name, not a comma.

The first few sentences of your cover letter should tell the reviewer which job you are applying for and the connection you have to the company. If someone the reviewer knows suggested you apply, mention that recommendation. If you are responding to an advertisement, refer to it and the source that published it.

Your knowledge of the company might give you another opportunity to connect yourself to the job. You could briefly describe your experience with its products, cite a recent company success, or refer to an article written about the company. But don't go overboard; save specifics for the interview.

The next portion of your cover letter is a brief explanation of your qualifications. Don't simply repeat your CV; summarize your most relevant qualifications or provide additional details about a noteworthy accomplishment. Address the employer's requirements directly, and don't be afraid to use special formatting to your advantage.

You can also use the body of your cover letter to address gaps in your work history or other problems evident on your CV. But do not volunteer negative information unless you must. Always maintain a positive, confident tone.

In your final paragraph, thank the reviewer, request an interview, and repeat your home phone number. The closing is your chance to show commitment to the job. Do not leave the ball in the employer's court. Indicate what reaction you expect from your letter and how you will follow up. For example, don't end with "I look forward to hearing from you soon." If you tell the reviewer you plan to call, make sure you do it.

A few tips

Use simple, uncomplicated language and sentence structure. Don't try to sound like someone else, particularly if that means using unnaturally formal language, convoluted sentences and words you've never used before (perhaps misusing them in the process). You may mean to impress, but you'll often sound awkward. Write as you would speak.

Be specific and get to the point. Your cover letter must be intriguing enough to get the reader to look at your CV, but should be only an introduction to the CV, not a repeat of it. Make sure you answer the question, "Why should I hire this person?"

Avoid using clichés, like "I've taken the liberty of enclosing my CV," or "I'm a people person." It's difficult to sell yourself as unique if your letter reads like every other one in the pile.

Be positive. Don't complain about your boss or describe your present or previous work experience as "boring." Nobody wants to hire somebody with an attitude. Above all, don't sound like you're begging for a job. A hiring manager may wonder why you're so desperate.
Be confident, but not arrogant. Don't be negative or too humble. Tell them you're qualified for the job, but don't demand it. Don't profess to know more about the company than you really do.

Type your letter, but beware of the dangers of word processing. If you send a similar letter to several companies, make sure that you change all customised statements accordingly; no company wants to read how much you'd like to work for their competitor. Carefully read each letter before you sign it.

Proofread. Check carefully for grammar and spelling mistakes, then check again.

Sign it. If you forget this, the employer may feel like you've sent a form letter.

Package it nicely. Print your CV and cover letter on the same paper stock; the uniformity will look professional. Use only printers that produce neat, readable text with no stray marks or smudges.

Keep one for yourself. Make a copy of each letter sent, and keep it for future reference.

Check out these other articles in the Careers category:

Working From Home With Children
Seven Steps to Better Networking
Why Do You Want This Job?
Preparing For An Interview
Working From Home During School Holidays