Careers: How to write a great cover letter

Nowadays, it’s expected that anyone applying for any job position should have a well written cover letter. A cover letter ultimately serves as your ‘pitch'.

  • Why should the employer read your resume? 
  • What skills/qualities/experience do you bring that will benefit the company you are applying for?
  • What job are you applying for?

These are some of the questions that your cover letter should answer.

DOWNLOAD A SAMPLE COVER LETTER HERE

I will first briefly summarize what needs to be in a cover letter, and then discuss these items in further detail. If you cannot concentrate for too long, just read the opening section of this post and that should give you some basic information on what is needed in a cover letter. For those who need a bit more help, the latter portion of this article should help in that regard.

With that being said, most cover letters contain these following elements:

Your contact informationWhat is your name, address, telephone and email. In our sample resume, we see that our applicant is “Jasmine”.

The recipients informationWho are you writing to? Who is the person that is in charge of 'recruiting' at the company you are applying to? Write their name, title, organization, and the address where the organization is located. On our sample resume, we notice that the person in charge of hiring is “Mr. Billy Bob”.

Opening paragraphThe opening paragraph should explain why you are writing this cover letter. What position are you applying for? How did you hear about this organization/position? What is some basic information you want the reader to know about yourself that you’re going to elaborate in more specific detail in subsequent paragraphs?

Advertisement paragraphThis is basically where your “pitch” comes. You should demonstrate here why you would be a valuable commodity to the company that you are applying to. What experiences/skills can the reader of your cover letter identify as “necessary” for their company? Why should they hire you for this particular job? Why are you applying for this job to begin with? A good “advertisement” paragraph gives the reader an idea as to why you would be qualified to fulfill the role that you are applying to. This does not need to be only one paragraph, it can be two (as is the case with Jasmine). Just make sure that you stay as specific as you possibly can.

The contact paragraphIn the final paragraph, let the reader know that you will “contact” them in a week or two in order to “answer further questions” they may have in regards to your employment status/qualifications. Furthermore, encourage them to contact you by adding a tag like Jasmine did, “in the meantime here is my contact information…” This demonstrates a proactive personality, and when carried out (make sure you actually contact them when you say you will!) can be very impressive to the employer.

End the letter with “sincerely”This is the safe ending tag.

That is a basic rundown of what each section requires. Here is more information/detail on the specific paragraphs that need to be written.

Cover Letter Opening ParagraphYour cover letter’s opening paragraph needs to be concise, to the point, and well written. If we look a bit closer at the cover letter that Jasmine has completed, we can get an idea of what and how we need to accomplish this goal.

Jasmine clearly stated, right from the beginning, what position that she was seeking. There is no doubt/confusion as to why she is sending this resume/cover letter. “I am seeking a summer internship at…”

Jasmine clearly stated where she heard about this internship opportunity from. “One your employees Mina Park recommended this position to me.” Referring to a specific person that referred you can be advantageous for a couple reasons. First of all, there is a chance that the person who may hire you knows Mina Park. Second, the person who is looking to possibly hire you may choose to contact Mina Park and ask her about you, which should definitely help your chance of getting hired. Finally, it establishes a connection to the company that is personal. If you do not have a specific person reference, just communicate to the reader how you found out about the job. “From your company’s website, I found out about the sales representative position…”

Jasmine gives a brief academic background, and then gets to her point: “I believe the qualities that makes me a strong candidate for this position are both my educational background and my international experience…” You need a basic “thesis” statement like this. You need a one sentence quick explanation of why you qualify for this job. You don’t have to phrase it exactly like it is written in Jasmine’s resume, but the idea should be the same.

Advertisement ParagraphAfter writing a short and concise opening paragraph, you need to address the “meat” of your application. This is basically the “body paragraphs” explaining in fuller detail the “thesis” you highlighted in your opening paragraph. For instance, in Jasmine’s case, she stated that the “qualities” that make her a good candidate for the job position are her educational background and international experience. In the paragraphs that follow, Jasmine will spend some time strengthening that position.

The basic structure of each “advertisement” paragraph should be: topic sentence (what are you going to highlight), what did you do/learn (what experience have you had), the skills you gained, and why these skills will help the organization you are applying to.

You need to be as specific as possible. Don’t be broad in this section by making statements such as “I am good at analyzing reports”. For instance, Jasmine states clearly that she “[can] see the big picture, especially in projecting economic outlooks, but at the same time [can] effectively micro analyze quarterly and annual reports”. This is a very detailed and specific assertion of what skills she gained while working at Citibank Korea.

The key component of this section is showing worth. You need to show the person who is considering the “hiring” why you stand out amongst the pool of applicants. What makes you so special? What makes you qualified? Sell yourself; do it effectively.

The contact paragraph essentially speaks for itself. If you have completed this overview on the cover letter, you should have an excellent cover letter ready for submission. You need to write a new cover letter for each position you are applying to, but can use the same basic “content” and “idea”. You only really need to change the person who is receiving the letter, and what position you are applying for. Good luck on your job hunt!

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