What to Include in a Cover Letter
The cover letter serves as the first introduction to an employer, and it is an opportunity to convey one's viability as a strong candidate as well as one's ability to communicate in a polished, professional manner. It notes the specific position targeted while showcasing relevant qualifications the job seeker has to offer. In addition, it allows a job seeker to further explain any unusual circumstances in his or her background (e.g., gaps in employment, a return to the workforce, or change in career focus), demonstrate professionalism, and attract an interview.
With this in mind, it is best to ensure the cover letter aligns with common expectations by limiting it to one page and addressing a specific individual whenever possible. Include the company name and the recipient's name and title. Even when applying to a blind ad or box number one can use the ad information to personalize a cover letter.
A well-written, employer-centric cover letter will typically consist of three main parts: the introduction, the body, and the closing (which ends with a compelling action or request).
The introduction: Whenever possible, indicate how you came to apply to the company, such as...
- responding to an advertised opening
- having identified the company through research (do not use this if you didn't do the research as it may be obvious to the employer)
- reading about the company or its executives in a publication
- receiving a referral from John Jones at XYZ company
The body: It is important to highlight your qualifications and strengths as they relate to the requirements of the position. Amplify or augment information contained in your resume (rather than merely repeating it) and include a few strengths or personal qualities.
The closing: If the position was unadvertised and the resume is unsolicited, indicate that you will follow up in a few days. If you are responding to an advertised position, indicate you are looking forward to the opportunity to discuss how you can contribute to the success of the organization.
It is important to balance the tone of your cover letter. You want to be professional yet cautiously assertive. While a resume does not conform to standard writing styles (e.g., using personal pronouns, articles, and complete sentences), a cover letter does! Lastly, remember to focus on the employer's needs rather than your own (e.g., indicate what skills you will bring to the position to get the job done, rather than what you expect the employer to do for you).
Every resume should be accompanied by a cover letter with five parts.
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In this article, I am going to demonstrate the mechanics of a well written cover letter. I hope this provides some knowledge about the parts of a cover letter, and enables you to generate interest from a hiring manager.
1. The Salutation (The Hello)
Get a name, any name. By hook or by crook try to get a name. Sometimes you can’t – then try To whom it may concern or Dear hiring manager.
Dear Hiring Manager:
2. The Opening (The Grab)
Your opening paragraph is your introduction and presents the reader with some immediate and focused information regarding the position you are pursuing and a few core competencies that demonstrate your strength:
Having contributed as an operations and general business leader, I am writing to express my interest in [Name of Position] with [Name of Company]. You will see on the enclosed resume I turned around an under-performing business, substantially improved productivity and employee morale, and possess critical and creative thinking skills that will facilitate my swift contribution to your sustained growth.
3. The Second Paragraph (The Hook)
This paragraph should define some examples of the work performed and results achieved. This paragraph should be connected to your resume. This does not mean you should copy verbatim what is in the resume. Rather, cover some key competencies that you feel define your success.
In the event you are highlighting some information not contained in the resume (if you are switching careers, or have a unique value proposition), this is the perfect place to cover that information. Use bullets to define key areas of achievement and highlight what you bring:
My professional experiences include my recent position with XYZ Corporation as Operations Manager, and previous positions with ABC Corporation, and DEF Corporation. In all of my roles I guided the professional development of staff and gained consensus for the adoption of new ideas due to my demonstrated ability to clearly present value added recommendations. The following is a brief sample of the expertise I offer:
- Conceptualized and implemented an innovative business strategy whereby inventory was maintained at vendor locations, resulting in the effective use of a JIT system and annual savings of $250,000 for XYZ Corporation.
- Established internal operating procedures that reduced employee downtime by 15%. In addition to conducting cross-training initiatives, I fostered an environment predicated on accountability for results, which improved the team’s commitment to the attainment of short- and long-term goals.
- Conducted industry and competitive analysis while at ABC Corporation, which enabled senior leadership to analyze potential acquisition opportunities. After contributing to the due diligence process, three targets were pursued, and resulted in one successful deal. From working with attorneys, investment bankers, and CPA’s, to serving as a key liaison to senior leadership, my recommendations were successfully implemented.
4. The Third Paragraph (Paragraph Of Knowledge)
Here demonstrate something you know about the company that prompted you to write. This shows the reader that you did some preliminary homework and understand the company’s drivers and goals:
After researching 123 Company, I understand your immediate goal is to improve business performance and establish key benchmarks within [Name of Industry]. Your recent acquisition of [Company Name], puts you in a position to gain market share and establish a unique brand presence with potential and existing customers. Given my professional achievements, I am in a position to help you quickly achieve your goals.
5. The Fourth Paragraph (The Close)
In the closing paragraph quickly summarize what you offer and close by either suggesting a meeting or indicating that you will call in a certain number of days. If you choose the latter approach, make sure you follow-up within the time frame you reference.
I bring a tool kit comprised of leadership, strategic planning, and analytical skills; and I would be pleased to review my credentials with you to personally explore how I can contribute as a member of your senior leadership team. Please feel free to contact me at the number above to arrange a time to speak.
That’s it! The above template provides what I believe to be the most important parts to any cover letter.
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