Making a solid first impression on a prospective employer often starts with a well-constructed cover letter. As a complement to your resume, it aids the hiring manager in formulating a more complete picture of who you are and what you bring to the table. It also provides the opportunity to demonstrate writing skill, professionalism and attention to detail.
Here's a look at the basic set-up of a cover letter:
Putting your name, phone number and email address at the top of the cover letter ensures the reader knows how to reach you. (Including a physical address is up to you. Many applicants opt to eliminate or only include city and state due to privacy concerns.) Keep this header in the same style, font and color as presented on your resume. The two documents will look like they go together (which is the ideal goal); it will also ensure consistency with your personal brand.
Note: For a cover letter copied and pasted as an email, contact info follows the signature at the bottom.
Address the letter to the specific recipient. If this information is not available in the job posting, find the hiring manager's name through LinkedIn or the company's website. Do not use phrases such as "To Whom it May Concern" or "Dear Sir or Madam." However, "Dear Hiring Manager" is acceptable if you cannot track down the name of an actual person to address.
Why are you writing? Why might I want to continue reading about you? The hiring manager should know answers to these questions after reading this section.
"The standard intro is how you learned about the position and why you're interested, but you can certainly deviate from that, perhaps telling a story that hooks the reader right away," says Emily Kikue Frank, M.A., owner of Career Catalyst.
In two or three brief paragraphs, expand on your experience and qualifications. Use this valuable space to enhance your candidacy, not rehash your resume.
"The best cover letters are engaging and informative, really letting readers get a sense of who you are and how you communicate," Frank says. You can speak to how your experience matches what they're looking for, why you're a good fit, and how you weave the pieces of your previous positions together to bring skills to this position."
End on a positive note. Thank the reader for his time, and encourage further action.
"The closing is a restatement of your enthusiasm with any important details like your availability and the best ways to reach you," Frank says.
Then, cordially close out your letter with something like "Sincerely, Jane A. Smith." If physically printing out the document, sign it.
Keep readability and professionalism top of mind when constructing a cover letter. To this end, Frank recommends:
- keeping the margins set to "normal" and aiming for a font size in the 10-12 point range
- choosing a font you like, but from within standard, easy-to-read choices like Arial, Calibri, or Times
- single-spacing, without giant additional spaces between the lines
- double-spacing between paragraphs or indenting the first line of each new paragraph
- avoiding "the kiss of death on a cover letter" – grammar, spelling and punctuation errors
Finally, limit your cover letter to one page. The goal is to entice further interest, not to tell a complete life story. Create a cover letter that serves this purpose, and you will have plenty of time to present more details when called in for an interview!