serves as an introduction to your résumé and is often the first impression a potential employer will have of you. Employers frequently use cover letters as screening tools. Even when limiting your job search to online venues, create a cover letter and use the body of the letter as the primary content of your e-mail message. Whenever possible, tailor your cover letter by including information found when researching the company and position for which you are applying.
When writing a cover letter, convey a friendly yet professional tone using complete sentences and proper grammar. The goal of a cover letter is to communicate how your key skills, experience, and accomplishments can meet the employer's needs. A basic cover letter contains three paragraphs. The first paragraph contains the purpose of the letter, the specific position for which you are applying, and how you learned of the position. If you have a contact within your target company, share the name of this individual and refer to how that individual informed you of the open position. In one sentence, summarize why you are interested and/or qualified for the position. Finally, share why you are interested in the organization, indicating any research you have conducted on the position and/or employer.
The second paragraph refers to the attached résumé and highlights the skills and qualifications you possess that the employer is requesting for the target job. Summarize how your key skills and qualifications match the employer's needs. Communicate what you can offer the company, not what you want from the company. Do not duplicate what is already listed on your résumé; instead, emphasize your experience and key skills.214215
Although it is acceptable to use the words "I" and "my" in a cover letter, be cautious to not begin most of your sentences with the word "I." Instead, focus the attention toward the employer by placing the company first and making its needs the priority. For example:Instead of writing, "I am proficient in the most recent version of Word." Write, "Your company will benefit from my proficiency in the most recent version of Word."
The purpose of the final paragraph is to request an interview (not the job). Do not state that you look forward to the employer contacting you; instead display initiative by stating that you will follow up on your request for an interview within a week. Include your phone number and e-mail contact information, even though it is already included in your information heading. Close courteously and include an enclosure notation for your résumé.
Do not address your cover letter to a department, the company name, or "to whom it may concern." Address the cover letter to a specific person, ideally to the person who will be making the hiring decision. This is typically the individual who directly supervises the target position. Research or call the company to identify a specific name and title, including the appropriate spelling and gender. If you still cannot secure a specific name, use a subject line instead of a salutation. Instead of "To Whom It May Concern," write "Subject: Account Clerk Position." Use the proper business letter format for your cover letter presented in Chapter 9. Each word and paragraph in your cover letter must have a purpose. Your goal is to communicate how your knowledge, skills, abilities, and accomplishments fill a targeted company's needs and make the reader want to review your résumé. The cover letter setup and sample cover letter in Figure 14.6 will assist you in creating a winning cover letter.