I’ve heard a lot of conflicting advice about how to write a cover letter. I’ve even heard that I don’t need to write one at all. I don’t know what to think anymore, any ideas? —Unemployed in Brooklyn
Half stepping when it comes to your cover letter is a common mistake jobseekers make. Most would argue that the resume is the star of the show, however, that’s not entirely incorrect. No great movie becomes a classic without a strong supporting cast. The same is true for your resume and cover letter.
Much like the summary section of your resume, your cover letter is like a movie trailer to your career history. It’s your first point of contact with an employer, in most cases, so it’s important to make a good impression immediately. While your resume can only take you as far as your experience, your cover letter can be the perfect tool to fill in the blanks, and explain, or include any tidbits that you’re unable to get across with your resume.
Tread lightly, though, it can be tempting to overstretch the truth, there’s a very fine line here. Have you ever watched a movie preview, only to realize after you spent those coins to see it, the trailer had nothing to do with the movie? Or worse, the best parts were in the previews and the rest of the movie was a snooze fest. Were you disappointed? Angry? Don’t make the same mistake with your cover letter and disappoint your potential new boss.
Here are a few steps to get you started crafting your next employment blockbuster:
1. Every movie trailer has a great opening, so should your resume.
- If you know the hiring manager’s name use something like “Dear [insert name]:”
- If you don’t, keep it simple, “Dear Hiring Manager:”
- Avoid “To Whom It May Concern:” If you’re not concerned enough to figure out which applies, no one who reads the letter will be either.
2. The First paragraph of your letter is where you set the scene.
- Tell the hiring manager who you are and what you have to offer, and don’t forget to make it brief and interesting.
- Mention the position you’re applying for and where you saw it listed. This whole section should only be a few sentences, no more than five.
- RoxxyWrites! Hint: It’s OK to use the first-person tense when writing cover letters.
3. The body of the cover letter is similar to when a movie starts with the climax before going back to show you the events leading up to that point. The reader should be engaged and wanting to learn more by now.
- The body should only be one to two paragraphs long. Start by telling the hiring manager why you’re perfect for this position in the first paragraph.
- In the second paragraph list your top three bragging points or what you’re most proud of in your career history. Remember, though, numbers draw the eye, so include monetary amounts or percent wherever you can.
- RoxxyWrites! Hint: If you have little to no traditional experience or degrees, try to think outside of the box. Talk about classes, volunteer positions, or activities and hobbies that show you know what you’re doing.
- Bonus Hint: Pull these bullet points directly from your resume. Don’t bother recreating the wheel here.
4. Now is the time to finish strong and take control. Tell them what to do next.
- Take out the guesswork, tell them you are exactly who they are looking for to join their team.
- Don’t leave it up to chance, seal the deal. Encourage the hiring manager to contact you to learn more about how you plan to contribute.
- Don’t forget to say thank you! This may seem like a given, but you would be surprised how such a small gesture can go a long way.
- Avoid: Listing references before you’re asked. You want to come off as confident, not arrogant.
If you have a career question for Roxxy, submit your inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org by Friday at 5p EST.
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