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The 4 Paragraphs That Make a Killer Cover Letter

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Ah, writing the dreaded cover letter. The vital piece of the job hunt that almost no one enjoys. How can you possibly convey to an employer the depths of your awesomeness in just one page? Or, more importantly, what can you write to keep the reader engaged for the minute plus it takes to skim through one?

While writing great cover letters takes effort and practice, it’s imperative that you get that practice by a) including a cover letter with each application, and b) changing it for each job. No two jobs are exactly alike and therefore your cover letters should not be either. By tailoring your letter to the job you demonstrate to the reader both your understanding of the position as well as your desire to fill it. Speaking of the reader, always remember to address the letter to a specific person. Call the company, or check LinkedIn or the company site to avoid a generic greeting.

As a career coach, I always tell my clients that the key to writing a powerful cover letter is perspective. You have to put yourself in the position of the reader and think about what the employer needs to see in order to prove your value in the role. While you are writing, always keep this perspective in mind. Use the job description, both in terms of style and content, as well as other research on the company and position to suss out exactly why you are the perfect candidate. The following outline will make sure your cover letter actually contains this pertinent info:

1. First (short) paragraph–WHO are you?

This paragraph should grab the reader’s attention and announce your qualifications right away, e.g. “As a curator with over 10 years of experience building, producing, and executing art shows for my own gallery, I was inspired to see the MOMA’s posting for [X] position.” If a specific person referred you, make sure to drop her/his name in the first line. Getting a personal reference is the most important way to assure that your letter (and attached resume) will be read. This paragraph contains a quick sentence or two summing up your elevator pitch, e.g., “My extensive management training combined with a strong sales track record will allow me to immediately add value to your team.”

2. Second (longer) paragraph-WHY this job/company?

Here’s where you tailor the letter to demonstrate that you know why you want this particular position. Most job applicants skip this part completely! No employer will hire someone who can’t articulate what makes the job desirable, e.g., “Working as an engineer for [your company] would provide the exciting opportunity to innovate in a staid industry.” If you don’t express why you’re applying for this specific job, the letter will seem formulaic and have less of an impact. Even if you’re perfectly qualified for the position, the reader wants to see why YOU want this job. Explain to the employer how this job is suited for you as well as vice versa.

Do your research on the company and the particular role offered. Glassdoor and LinkedIn are helpful resources for research, but also read articles, talk to your network, and do your due diligence. This also ensures that you don’t waste your time applying to a job you never wanted in the first place.

3. Third (longest) paragraph-WHAT makes you a good candidate?

The real meat of the letter is in this paragraph, which communicates why you’re the best fit for the role. Remember the adage about writing, “show, don’t tell”? This portion is the perfect application of it. Instead of just listing your accomplishments, SHOW that you understand and appreciate the intricacies of the position by giving specific, translatable examples from your prior work. Something like, “By designing and orchestrating [x company’s] social media relaunch, I increased user engagement by [X] percent and drove traffic up by [X] page views. Some ideas I had for [your company’s] brand redevelopment include….”

Before you get started on this section spend some time carefully reading through the job description as well as any other ancillary research you’ve compiled on the employer and the job. Sometimes even highlighting the description line by line and taking notes about your correlating experience can be a productive starting point. Be sure to include the key terms mentioned in the listing.

4. Fourth (shortest) paragraph-SALUTATIONS and follow up details

The final section is where you summarize your qualifications, e.g., “Throughout my career, I have taken on diverse challenges and proven my ability to deliver positive results. I would be thrilled to further discuss the possibility of doing the same at [X].” In addition, be sure to offer references or other materials, state that you look forward to hearing from the company.

Now, about those resumes

This article was originally published on GoGirl Finance.

Photo: markusspiske / Pixabay


#Cover Letter Career Advice
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I disagree. In my time writing stuffy-sounding cover letters, I never got one call-back. Now that I read cover letters, I understand why. The cover letter can be a deciding factor if your resume doesn't quite impress enough. And a formulaic, stuffy cover letter is not going to tip the scales in your favor.

I interview students for co-op positions with my company, so the cover letters I see tend towards very generic.
Over the last 7 years, only one has caught my attention. This student told a story. She talked about how her love for design started & what classes and parts of our field inspired her. It made me want to bring her in and talk to her. To find out more about her & see if she was a good fit for our company. You never know what will catch someone’s eye, but that tactic worked for this student. I will definitely remember that when I need to start working on a cover letter in the future.

I have heard from individuals in hiring positions that it is better to be brief and use bullet points rather than full paragraphs. They don't spend a lot of time reading the cover letter in my experience.

I do both. I try to write a solid cover letter hitting all the points covered here but add in a few bullet points in paragraphs 2 or 3 highlighting some of my strengths. That way the eye is drawn to that part of the letter and if they're busy they can get right to the meat of the letter.

What do you do when you have had the sort of jobs that aren’t particularly ‘dynamic’? I have been working in administrative roles - I haven’t added quantifiable revenue, or ‘increased’ anything in particular, and goals have not been time-based. How do you prove that you have excellent attention to detail / reliability / IT skills?

Whenever I read a ‘how to’ write a CV or cover letter article they tend to focus on how you can prove that you added value or made money for the company, or smashed through a target in record time. Some jobs are just not like that!

Advice welcome - thank you!

Jason Koenig
Jason Koenig
Brianna Kevin
Brianna Kevin

Thank you very much for posting and sharing this great blog. This is really very informative i am really glad to help you in this look.

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Joanna Kowalczyk
Joanna Kowalczyk

If an employer requires a cover letter, it means that it is important to him. I recommend a free wizard - /cover-letter-builder/

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