Top Ten Tips for Cover Letters

by Melanie Keveles
Whether you email, fax or snail mail your resume, you'll want to include a cover letter. This document can direct the reader to the meat of your resume and establish rapport between you and the potential employer. Here are some important ideas to keep in mind as you compose your letters:
  1. Purpose - Not only does your letter serve as an ambassador for you, introducing your credentials, but an effective letter must also generate the reader's interest in you. Ultimately you want to prompt a favorable reply.
  2. Audience - Keep in mind the perspective of the person who will be reading your letter. He/she is not interested in what YOU want, but what value you will bring to the organization. What you convey should prove of interest enough to lead an employer (or recruiter) to want to interview you.
  3. Structure - a letter should be composed of:
    • An introductory paragraph that
      • is interest generating
      • states or implies interest
    • A value-selling paragraph that
      • demonstrates your ability to add value
      • highlights your key strengths and abilities
    • A background summary that briefly describes your relevant education and experience
    • A statement that either compels or ensures follow-up action
    • A statement of appreciation
  4. Point of View - write your letters in the first person; yet vary your sentences with beginning phrases and clauses so that each line does not start with "I."
  5. Match Needs with Qualifications - list the requirements of the job side-by-side with your qualifications for a response to a job ad. Doing so will show the reader you have the right stuff and will simplify the process of reading your letter.
  6. Good Writing Requires Rewriting - Don't be satisfied with your first draft. Let your first draft be a stream of consciousness. After you let your ideas flow, go back and review your writing for glaring grammatical errors. Edit to remove unnecessary words and phrases. Limit your paragraphs to six or seven lines, not to overwhelm the reader.
  7. Appearance - proof your letters carefully. Have someone else review them. Don't rely on a computer spell checker. A word may be correctly spelled, but inappropriate for the context.
  8. Networking - a letter can be an entrée to a person who can lead you to a job opportunity.
    • Start with a mention of the person who referred you to the contact
    • Provide a brief summary of your career background
    • Maintain the initiative by suggesting a meeting and that you will call for an appointment
  9. Follow Up Letters - every meeting and interview should result in a follow up letter. Reiterate the high points of the meeting and include ideas that distinguish you from the pack.
  10. Stay in Touch - maintain visibility by sending letters periodically to your key contacts. Look for articles of interest to include to "gift" the receiver with information they can use to better do their job., an AmeriCareers ® service.