Pretend you’re a hiring manager, flipping through a stack of resumes and cover letters. Based on the resumes, many of the candidates for the open position seem to be well-qualified. How do you decide who you’d like to interview?
This is where a cover letter can be extremely beneficial. First of all, it lets the recruiter or hiring manager know a bit about the job seeker’s attention to detail. Any glaring errors, and that candidate ends up in the “no” pile. Secondly, the hiring team has the chance to learn whether a prospective employee has the ability to communicate clearly and professionally.
Monster.com quotes Sara Brooke, a recruiter in Tennessee, who claims, “Recruiters don’t read cover letters and hiring managers don’t have time to—they only spend six seconds reading your resume as it is.” So, if you write a cover letter, think of it as proof to your future employer that you know how to format a letter, have good grammar, and don’t raise any red flags. It offers you the chance to make a good first impression. If you’re neck-and-neck with another candidate, of course, the cover letter can become a deciding factor.
With this in mind, keep your cover letter as simple as possible:
Word Count: 200-400
Page Count: 0.5-1
Paragraph Count: 1-4
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Looking at the full page, you should see a lot of white space. This makes your cover letter easier to skim, improving readability. At the top of the page, format your letter with the date, your contact information, and the recipient’s contact information. The body of the letter should be single-spaced with two spaces between each paragraph. Stick to short paragraphs of around 100 words.
The first paragraph should consist of relevant background information and a statement about why this position is a good fit.You may also choose to share information about how you found out about the job posting.
Next, the second paragraph allows you to elaborate on your work experience and accomplishments. For instance, you might take one bullet point from your resume and give more context for your achievement. To save space, you can include additional facts and figures in a brief, bulleted list.
As another example, you might want to expand on a prize you received. Why? Well, typically, a hiring manager would not be familiar with how a particular prize gets awarded—adding information about the number of applicants, the reason you were chosen, and how often winners receive the prize may help to put your achievement in context.
In a great cover letter, the detailed examples line up with the specific requirements listed in the job description. Within the second and third paragraphs, it can be useful to use the exact same language to describe your skills that you saw in the job title and description. So, if the job description says, “Candidates need to facilitate communication between departments,” try to use very similar verbiage to explain your positive performance metrics: “Sales increased by 65% when I began facilitating communication between X and Y departments.”
Lastly, conclude your cover letter by underscoring the reason that you think you’d be a good match for this company in particular. What attracts you to this employer? Don’t be afraid to flatter! You’ll also want to include a call-to-action with a request to set up a phone call or interview. After the closing paragraph, be sure to sign-off in a professional way.
Next, proofread your cover letter to ensure that you don’t see any typos or errors.
Writing an Electronic Cover Letter
For an electronic cover letter, the biggest difference has to do with how you format the contact information. Rather than including your own contact information in the header at the top of the letter, write it after your name as you would with a typical email signature in any other email. The recipient’s name, along with their company name, phone number, and address, should be at the top of the email, before your salutation.
You’ll have to think of an appropriate subject line for an email cover letter. Also, be sure to adjust any automatic font settings, so that your electronic cover letter looks simple and professional. We recommend using a standard font in a 12-point font size. Double check your email to make sure that you have all the appropriate attachments.
Best of luck on your job search and be sure to keep your cover letter short and sweet. Try to limit yourself to four paragraphs with under 100 words per paragraph, unless you’re applying for a highly skilled position.
I’m an award-winning playwright with a penchant for wordplay. After earning a perfect score on the Writing SAT, I worked my way through Brown University by moonlighting as a Kaplan Test Prep tutor. I received a BA with honors in Literary Arts (Playwriting)—which gave me the opportunity to study under Pulitzer Prize-winner Paula Vogel. In my previous roles as new media producer with Rosetta Stone, director of marketing for global ventures with The Juilliard School, and vice president of digital strategy with Up & Coming Media, I helped develop the voice for international brands. From my home office in Maui, Hawaii, I currently work on freelance and ghostwriting projects.