Best Cover Letter Tips

cover letterA cover letter serves two important functions, introducing and marketing
your capabilities. Cover letter is the first document your future employer/recruiter is going to read about you. Hence sending a well written cover letter will determine the next action of the reader, to read your detailed resume or place your application in the KIV pile. Following are some practical tips in writing a winning cover letter.

What is a Cover Letter?

Cover Letter is the letter which tells why you are best person for the job. Cover letter will introduce you and your resume to employer. In the cover letter one must state why you are writing, why you are the best and when you plan to contact your prospective employer.

A cover letter is written to a prospective employer in order to: highlight the experiences you have which are relevant to the employer’s needs and suggest ways your skills might be used in that setting. Actually, a cover letter draw your readers’ attention to specific qualifications. A cover letter is also important because it provides a sample of your written communications skills. The role of the Cover letter is to interest the reader in interviewing you for a position based on your qualifications to do the job.The main function of a cover letter is to create enough interest to make the employer read your resume.

Always write cover letters with care, because, like resumes, cover letters create an image of who you are as a professional.

You should plan to write a new cover letter for every position you apply for, because cover letters should be tailored to the needs of your readers. The main function of a cover letter is to create enough interest to make the employer read your resume. Remember, you are selling yourself and your letter is part of your marketing campaign. Always bear in mind that the content of your cover letter should change from job to job.

The contents include at least three topics:

  • why you are writing;
  • why the reader will be interested in you; and
  •  what will happen as a result of the letter.

BASIC RULES FOR GOOD COVER LETTERS

  1. Each Letter should be different from other. Type each letter individually. Develop a basic letter that can be changed slightly.
  2. Address each employer by name and title. If required call the company for this information.
  3. Start the letter with a strong sentence which will take employer’s feet off the desk.
  4. Devote the center of your letter to brief facts about your experience and accomplishments that will arouse the employers’ curiosity. Use facts to direct attentions to your resume.
  5. Appeal to the self interest of the person to whom you are writing.
  6. Whenever possible, bid directly for an interview and indicated that you will call to arrange a suitable time.
  7. Use Standard margins for your cover letter.
  8. Leave a space between your heading.
  9. Leave a space between each paragraph.
  10. Leave three spaces between your salutation.
  11. Center your letter in the middle of the page; in other words, make sure that the space at the top and bottom of the page is the same.
  12. Either align all paragraphs to the left of the page, or indent the first line of each paragraph to the right.
  13. Sign your name in ink between your salutation and typed name.

Common Mistakes in Cover Letters

After reviewing thousands of letters sent in response to a want advertisements, someare truly funny and miss the actual essence. From reviewing the cover letters, we have compiled  a list of some common errors which should be avoided:

  1. First and foremost ensure the correct name of the company in your cover letter. We often receive cover letters with other company’s name. It shows the lack seriousness or lackadasical attitude of the sender. How would we be able to recommend a sender, who does not take pride in his/her job search.  Addressing letters, “Dear Sir:” or “Dear Sirs:” As you know, many readers today are women. If gender is unclear, the salutation should be something like “Dear Hiring Manager,” or “Dear Human Resources Manager.”
  2. Addressing letters, “To whom it may concern.” should be avoided. Find out who will receive the correspondence, and address it personally. We have received letters addressed to “Dear Whomever,” which consultants regard as a disillusioned job seeker.
  3. Enclosing a photo. Skip the photo unless you’re a model or an aspiring actor.
  4. Handwriting or typing over an old resume or letterhead. If you’ve moved, start over. Changes on old documents aren’t acceptable.
  5. No signature. Even if you type your name at the end of correspondence, you should sign the page in your own handwriting to give it a personal touch.
  6. Spelling errors. One applicant said he was well suited for “writting and editing chores… contact (sic) me at the adrwss (sic) below.” Would you give him your editing work? Another writer said she would enjoy “hearing form (sic) us.” Word processing spell checkers make mistakes; so proof everything. At times, there is a confusion between the usage of British vs American spelling. As many Malaysians, we are getting used to American spelling but British spelling is the commonly accepted one. However, a job seeker should be consistent throughout the documents on using of either British or American spelling. Jobseeker should avoid flip-flops between British spelling for some words and using American speling some other word within a document.
  7. Not checking grammar. One person wrote, “It sounds exciting and give me (sic) the opportunity to use my skills.” Check your letters for correct sentence structure. Have friends review them too.
  8. Handwriting letters. Brief 30-word thank you notes can be handwritten, if legible. All other correspondence should be typewritten or word processed, even if you have to borrow a word processor or pay a secretarial service. Handwritten letters don’t say “business.”
  9. Using a Post-It Brand Note as a letter. Post-It® Notes aren’t letters. Using one says, “This isn’t important. I was too busy to write a real letter.”
  10. Using the word “I” too much. Some letters are filled with 20 or 30 I’s. Make sure yours aren’t. Advertising is about “you.” Emphasize “you” rather than “I.”
  11. FAXing letters unexpectedly.
  12. Forgetting to include your phone number. One man wrote, “Please call me at home,” but didn’t include a phone number. That looked bad.
  13. Cluttered desktop publishing. With the advent of PCs, some job seekers feel the urge to “be creative” using various type sizes and fonts. Avoid this in business correspondence. Except in rare cases, business letters should look conservative. If you want to be creative, do so in your choice of words. Save Microsoft Publisher and Photoshop for your Christmas cards.
  14. Using a post office box as an address. Except in rare cases, such as conducting a confidential job search, use a street address. Post office boxes seem “transient.”
  15. Avoid oddball phrases, such as “an opportunity to use my strengths and delete my weaknesses… ” Or, “You may feel that I’m a tad overqualified.” Or, “Enclosed herewith please find my resume.” Do you talk that way? You should write the way you talk. Avoid bad phrasing by having others critique your letters.
  16. Typos, like “thankyou for your assistance.
  17. Mailing form letters. Some letters contain “fill in the blanks.” Generic forms don’t work well.
  18. Testing brief letter writing. Not saying enough. One want ad letter read, “Please accept my enclosed resume for the position of Managing Director which is self explanatory. Thank you.” That’s too short. A letter is an opportunity to sell. So say something about yourself.
  19. Ending with “Thank you for your consideration.” EVERYONE ends their letters this way, so please don’t. Try something different, like “I’m excited about talking further,” or “I know I could do a good job for you.” The same goes for “Sincerely,” and “Sincerely yours.” EVERYONE uses them. Find something different like “Good wishes,” “With best regards,” or “With great enthusiasm.”
  20. WRITING IN ALL CAPS. IT’S HARD TO READ. DON’T DO IT.
  21. Abbreviating Cir., Ave., Dec., and all other words. Take time to spell words out. It looks so much better.
  22. Forgetting to enclose your resume. If you say you’re enclosing one, then do.
  23. Justifying right margins. When you “justify right,” you create large gaps between words inside your sentences.
  24. Forgetting the date and/or salutation.
  25. Using fading printer cartridges. Whenever possible, use a laser printer, even if you have to borrow one—and Kinkos is a nice 24/7 alternative.
  26. Talking nonsense. “I work in instilling proper conduits for mainstream educational connections while also encouraging individual creative forms.” What? Run that one by me again.
  27. Forgetting to put the letter in the envelope. (I received an empty FedEx package.)
  28. The 300-word paragraph. The worst mistake in marketing is writing too long. Limit sentences to seven or eight words, and limit paragraphs to four or five lines. In letter writing, short is usually better. I try to limit my own letters to one page, seldom two. I believe if I can’t say it well in one page, I probably can’t say it well at all.
  29. Font size, 11pt or 12 pt is the generally accepted font for all documents.

Nine Tips for Creating a Winning Cover Letter:

  1. Keep it short

The ideal cover letter is about half a page long, and never exceeds one page. A concise letter demonstrates that you are focused and have strong communication skills. Normally, it will have two to four brief paragraphs.

  1. State the position

The employer/recruiter who reads your letter may be hiring for several positions. While candidates who e-mail their resumes often include the job title in the subject line of their e-mails, if the recruiter prints a letter out before reading it, such information may be lost. Clearly state the job title in the first paragraph of the letter, preferably in the first sentence.

  1. Explain why you want the job

Jobseekers should always answer the question ‘Why do I want this work?’. Ask yourself how the position fits with your overall career plan and what you find exciting about the particular sector. A genuine show of enthusiasm and knowledge of the company will set you apart from those sending generic form letters. Your cover letter should stand out in terms of content.

  1. Clearly describe ways you will be able to contribute

This is the most important element of a cover letter. After carefully reading the job description, write a paragraph outlining one or two specific examples of how your skills and experiences will match the company’s needs.

  1. Match but do not reapeat your resume

This is one point many job seekers find tricky. You should never overstate your experience or achievement in your cover letter that is not reflected on your resume. At the same time, your cover letter should not simply restate your resume. When you explain the ways you will contribute, refer to an experience or skill on your resume to show how you will add value to the company.

  1. Do not include the areas that do not match with their criteria

Even if you think the position you are applying is out of your reach, it is your job to convince the recruiter you are qualified. A confessional letter is not going to get you an interview. Keep the letter positive by focusing on your transferable skills and unusual accomplishments.

  1. Keep the tone and content professional

Do not be a comedian, do not get personal or do not sound you are desperate for the job. Recruiters are more likely than not to think your attempts at humor or stories about your personal life are just plain weird.

  1. Tell the reader what you are going to do next

Too many job seekers never follow up after sending a resume. Saying what you are going to do next is the second-most important thing to do in your letter. It forces you to make a commitment to action. If the job post lists a phone number, indicate you will call within a specified time to arrange an interview. If not, consider calling anyway, unless the post specifically request “no calls”. You many also consider a follow-up e-mail if you sent your resume electronically.

  1. Proof-read Again.

Using a spell checker is not enough. Many recruiters will dismiss even the most qualified candidate if there are typos in the cover letter or resume. Reread your letter two or three times, then give it to someone else who knows a thing or two about good writing. Even if your letter is free of typos, poor grammar also makes a bad impression.

Email Cover Letter

Many a times, we receive email cover letters with the resume as attachments. We find applicants do not take the care as they do for cover letters with mailed applications. Generally, the structure of the email cover letter should follow the samples  we have provided. Below are some common areas, a sender should take note of, if an email cover letter is sent.

  • Do not get overly casual and informal. Online cover letters are notoriously awful, poorly written throwaways. It’s going over the Internet, but it’s the same product. The cover is very important and should be the same quality as if you were mailing it.
  • Please ensure that the proper salutation is used. It is always advisable to call the company to determine the person’s name and designation. eg. Mr., Mrs., Ms.,
  • Include the same type of information, in a shorter version. Don’t rehash resume, tell them where you learned about the listing, why you’re right for the job, and how they can reach you.
  • If you are including your resume as an attachment, make sure the prospective employer accepts attachments and then state in your cover letter the program you used to create the attachment. (“I’ve enclosed a resume written in Microsoft Word 2003”) You also might want to include a cut and paste text version of your resume, in case the person reading the resume doesn’t have the software to open your attachment.
  • Save a copy of whatever you send by including your own email address in the “BCC” field or by making sure a copy goes to your “Sent Mail” folder. This allows you to resend the letter if a problem pops up.
  • Do not fill in the recipient’s email address until you’ve finished writing and editing the cover letter and resume. This prevents you from accidentally sending off the message before it is ready.
  • If you really want the job, follow up an emailed cover letter and resume with a hard copy in the mail to give you another chance for exposure. Include a cover letter in the hard copy also, and include, “I recently emailed you my resume and I’m following up with this hard copy.” For formatting, stick to left-justified headers and four-inch wide text lines in your paragraphs. The address you’re mailing to may have a small email page format that will awkwardly wrap text around the screen. Many email systems cannot handle text enhancements like bolding, bulleting, or underlining, so play it safe by using CAPITAL LETTERS or dashes if you need to make an emphasis.

Cover Letter – Sample 1

Your name
Your address
Your phone number
Your email

<Current date>

Mr. First name, Middle Initial, Last name
Company
Company address
<Post Code>, Kuala Lumpur

Dear Mr. Last name:

I am writing in response to your announcement for the position of <PositionTitle> which was posted on the <Online Name’s> web site. I was excited to see your advertisement because qualities such as strong leadership and interpersonal skills needed for this position go well with my background and experience in <eg, marketing>.

I will complete my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree with a Marketing emphasis from the University of <Name of University> in May, and I am interested in obtaining employment in the <Company Name>.

I look forward to discussing my qualifications and interest in working for <Company name>. I will contact you next week to confirm that you have received my credentials. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me at 0X- XXXX XXXX. I look forward to speaking with you.

Sincerely,

YOUR name

Enclosure

Sample Cover Letter -2

Your name
Your address
Your phone number
Your email

<Current date>

Mr. First name Last name
Company name
Company address
<Postcode> Kuala Lumpur

Dear Mr. Last name:

I would like to express my interest in<your company> and the available <Job Title> position described on the <job portal’s name> website through the University Malaya Career and Counselling.

As noted on my resume, I will complete my Bachelor of Science in Business Administration and Bachelor of Arts in International Relations degrees with an emphasis in Marketing and German in May from the University Malaya..

I have spent the last three term breaks interning in several companies in Kuala Lumpur. My Internship with a local conglomerate has allowed me to gain professional business experience and develop excellent oral and written skills. I am confident that these skills have provided me with the background for a successful and productive career at <company name>.

Sincerely,

<Your name>

Enclosure