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The Elements of a Great Cover Letter 

A surprising amount of people simply disregard the need for a cover letter. It’s not uncommon for people to assume that their resume alone is strong enough and they ditch the cover letter. When, in reality, the cover letter is often more important than the resume itself. A cover letter is often the first thing a recruiter will see, and without one the recruiter may develop the wrong impression about you. In fact, some recruiters may not even look at a resume if the cover letter is absent.

Let’s be honest. Writing cover letters for most is not a fun task. Especially since these letters have to be tailored to each specific job. Perhaps you are tired of writing new cover letters, or maybe you don’t know how to craft one in the first place. 

Either way, writing a cover letter that will put you on the top of the recruiter’s contact list does not have to be a daunting task. Here are several things that will help you craft the perfect cover letter that’s easily editable and adjustable.

The Elements of a Great Cover Letter

Start with a template

In this course we have provided you with basic templates for your cover letter which makes it easy to fill in everything. 

Since a cover letter is an employer’s look into your writing skills, specifically your business writing skills, it’s important that whatever template you choose to work with that it has all the business formal elements:

  1. From field (your name and contact information)
  2. To field (The recipient’s name, title, company, and address)
  3. DateGreet
  4. ing
  5. Body (typically four paragraphs)
  6. Salutation
  7. Your signature 

Sound like a lot? Well not to worry. Almost every single one of these elements can be reusable from job application to job application, meaning you can create a base cover letter template that you can quickly tailor for each job fairly quickly.

The body is the most complicated part of the cover letter and the most important (except perhaps your name and contact information). A well-crafted body can get you the attention of the recruiter and land you that interview.

The Body of Your Cover Letter

The body of your cover letter has three main components: the introduction, the meat, and the summary.

Introduction: the four key components of the first paragraph

The ease in which you can craft a great cover letter doesn’t end at step one. In fact, the first paragraph consists of four easily rinse-and-repeatable sections. Firstly, introduce yourself. Specify your position of interest. Make sure that you use the EXACT title, and mention a job description number if there is one. Discuss how you heard about the position (through a friend, online job board, professional organization, etc.). Make sure that you talk to the employer by name, it’s a great way to get their attention. Finally, write a basic introductory statement addressing the reasons why you are a good candidate for this position. It’s that simple!

The meat: paragraphs 2–3

The middle two paragraphs should hold your main driving points, arguments if you will, that truly cement the fact that you are worthy of consideration. However, this shouldn’t just be a recap of your resume. Sometimes it’s hard to find the balance, so here are three different ways to structure these two paragraphs. Choose whichever fits your background and job goals best:

  1. Showcase your industry knowledge and add credibility to your skills
    1. Paragraph 2 should focus on professional experience,
    2. Paragraph 3 should focus on academic and community experience. 

This will show the employer both your industry knowledge and add credibility to your skills outside the workplace.

  1. Create a great image of you
    1. Focus one paragraph on your technical skills in the workplace
    2. The second paragraph should focus on your soft skills such as teamwork and creativity.

This creates a great image of you: showing that you’re capable of getting the job done, as well as fitting into a team and bringing creativity to the job.

  1. Show, don’t tell

Tell stories. If you have two stories of projects or roles that each have their own accomplishments that demonstrate expertise in this area, then write a paragraph on each one. Ideally, these two stories will highlight two separate sets of skills.

Summary: the final paragraph

The final paragraph needs to act as a summary of everything. Summarize most of what you have just told them, then thank the employer for their consideration. Lastly, end with a call to action. Invite the employer to contact you. Remember to put your phone number and email address at the top under your contact details.

Get Noticed!

What’s in it for them

As you begin to craft your cover letter keep this one thing in mind: 

What’s in it for this employer if they hire me? 

Don’t talk about what you want from the available position. Instead, discuss everything that you can bring to the company with your skillset. This is what makes the cover letter so important. It’s a chance to explicitly state what you as an individual will be able to offer.

The cover letter is more powerful than the resume because it allows you to be specific about skills. This is your opportunity to tell your potential employer exactly what you want them to know. Showcase how the skills you have helped your employer achieve their goals. Above all else, they want to know that you’re going to be a good employee for them. Showcase skills that you know will help them achieve their company’s goals.

Hook statement!

The aptly named hook statement is your key to hooking the recruiter’s attention. A great hook statement is something that will sink into your employer’s mind, meaning that they will remember you! Perhaps it’s a shared interest, your plethora of qualifications, your immense industry involvement. Just make sure that in your opening you deliver a hook filled with “wow factor.”

Align your cover letter with the job description

Employers write job descriptions with specific keywords and are looking to see how you respond to these words. By ensuring that you identify and cover each of these buzz words, you will almost always grab the employer’s attention.

It can also be useful to add a unique line detailing a special affinity for this company, or admitting genuine interest in everything going on within this workplace. The cover letter helps you to develop a rounded case for why you should be employed.

Use visually appealing formatting and easy to read font

Don’t skimp on the formatting of your cover letter. The presentation of this cover letter translates into your communication skills. If you are able to present a clean, easy to read and understandable cover letter, your potential employer will assume that you have great communication skills.

Remember to include margins and paragraphs, and not just be a slab of text. If you want to be a professional then your resume should make it look like you are one! So make sure your cover letter looks like it was written by a professional.

Steer clear from fonts that are hard to read such as cursive and fancy fonts. Stick to sans-serifc like fonts such as Arial and Calibri. If a recruiter is having a hard time reading the font they may just toss your cover letter aside. Make it easy for them to want to discover if you’re the right person for the job by making your cover letter easily legible.

The Final Steps 

Edit, revise, and proofread

Edit, revise, and proofread! Possibly the most important step. There’s nothing worse than having your cover letter or resume be riddled with typos. It really does not send a great message to your employer and may be discarded offhand because of it. Run whatever grammar and spelling check your text editor has available for you and be very thorough about this. Even if you are sending it electronically, it may be best to print it out and go over it with a pen in hand. Do not send it off without proofreading!

Have a friend look over your cover letter

It is always a good idea to have an outside pair of eyes go over your job application before submission. They can point out words and sentences that don’t make sense, refine your ideas, proofread, and help you ensure your letter is its best before submission. If you can, have a friend in the same industry go over your letter. They can give you insight as to whether it sounds good for that industry. Someone outside your industry can still help ensure your letter is free of typos.

Proofread, Again!

After any major, or even minor, changes. Proofread again. It can’t be emphasized enough how a great cover letter can get you in the door and how major errors will keep that door closed. So proof it one more time. And if you make major changes, proofread it again. Do not send it off without proofreading! Not only will this help you get the job, but it will also improve your own writing and editing skills which will make you a better communicator and make you better in your profession.

Save each rendition

Obviously, it’s impossible to create one single cover letter for every job opportunity. Cover letters have to be tailored for each job application. It’s good practice to save each edited cover letter, to look back on and help you refine your next one. This will help you to refine your template as well, creating better and better cover letters. Your file system might look something like this:

  • CoverLetter_JohnSmith_Base.docx 
    • This is the cover letter you base your other cover letters off of. Update based on which cover letters got you in the door.
  • CoverLetter_JohnSmith_CompanyABC_GotInterview.docx
  • CoverLetter_JohnSmith_CompanyXYZ.docx
  • CoverLetter_JohnSmith_IndustryJob2_GotJob.docx

Conclusion

Once you have this cover letter template, writing cover letters is about to become a whole lot easier. It’s no longer going to be that task you put off doing for weeks. Having a strong cover letter is a sure way to grab your employer’s attention, and to hopefully secure that job opportunity!

related Coaches:

Mary Nestor is an international speaker, author, seminar leader and coach with a diverse background as a business owner, entrepreneur, freelance writer, author and business executive.

Marcia Newman has over 20 years of experience in strategically maximizing performance, career coaching, and growing leaders through professional coaching, consulting, training and inspirational speaking.

As a career coach, executive coach and master trainer, Andrew helps clients gain the unique insights they need to reach their career objectives and top performance.

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