Key Parts Of A Cover Letter

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The cover letter is usually the first item an employer reads from you. Your letter should immediately indicate what position you are applying for and then give information that demonstrates why you should be considered for the position. Do not repeat all of the information contained in your resume. Instead, highlight or elaborate on resume items that are directly applicable to the position for which you are applying. The following information should be included in your cover letter.


Information about you

Begin your cover letter with your contact information. It should be in block style, on the left margin of your paper, towards the top.

  • Name
  • Current home address
  • Telephone number

Date

Include a date as you would do with any business letter.

Contact Person's Name, Title, Employer, and Address

Including a specific name can get your letter and resume to the hiring manager more quickly and can be an effective personal touch. If you are applying for an advertised position that does not give a name to contact, call the company and ask for the department manager's name.

Salutation

Choose the appropriate way to address the contact person.
For example:

  • Dear Mr. Johns (if a man's name is the contact)
  • Dear Ms. Smith (if a woman's name is the contact)
  • Dear Prospective Employer (if there is no contact name)

Opening Paragraph

In the opening paragraph tell how you learned about the position. You may, for example, know of a job through:

  • a classified advertisement
  • an unsolicited mailing
  • the Internet
  • personal referrals

Middle Paragraph

This paragraph gives a summary of your background and critical skills (hard skills) that make you qualified for the position.

Second Middle Paragraph

This paragraph can be used to demonstrate your persuasive skills (soft skills).

Contact Information and Closing

At the end of the letter talk about your availability for the job, where you can be contacted, and when you are going to contact the hiring person for an appointment to discuss your application. If you have no contact name you may simply want to indicate your anticipation for a response in this part of the letter. Thank the person to whom you are writing for his/her time and consideration of your application.


Other Considerations:

Paper and Printing

  • Use white or ivory (20-25 lb.), 8 ½ x 11 bond paper printed on one side only.
  • Use the same paper for resume, cover letter, and envelopes if possible.
  • Make sure that there is no shadowing or dirty marks from your printer on the papers.

Error Prevention

  • Follow instructions in employment ads or recruitment directions.
  • Proofread! Look for spelling and formatting errors. Make sure recipient's name, company name, and title are correctly spelled in the letter and on the envelope.
  • Proofread again!
  • Have another person proofread your letter and resume.
  • Be sure there are no errors of fact.
  • Sign in blue or black ink.
  • Keep a copy of the cover letter and resume for your records.
  • Follow up with a phone call, about five days after expected delivery.

Layout and Design

  • Follow standard cover letter format.
  • Keep the cover letter to one page.
  • Set margins at 1 ½”.
  • Use a simple, easy to read font style, 10-14 point. (Times, Courier, or Helvetica)
  • Use boldface, italics, all-caps and underlining, but don't overdo it.

Planning and Tone

  • Tailor each cover letter to one specific position.
  • Use industry jargon specific to your career field.
  • Identify the employer's key words and use them.
  • Make all statements positive. Check the tone by asking yourself if each sentence leaves a positive impression.
  • Show originality but not cuteness.
  • Use action verbs and phrases.
  • Sound determined and confident not desperate.

Style

  • Organize context in a reasonable and logical order.
  • Use correct grammar.
  • Keep sentences short.
  • Keep paragraphs short.
  • Use short words and simple language.
  • Make every word count.
  • Punctuate using commas, dashes, and periods.

Content

  • Focus on the employer's need for a worker, rather than your need for a job.
  • Tell how your skills and personal qualities match the employer's needs.
  • Focus on what you can do for the employer and how you contribute to the organization.
  • Show you have researched the company double check those facts.
  • Be specific avoid general statements.

Every resume should be accompanied by a cover letter with five parts.

(Psst! Did you know we review cover letters? We also give you the tools you need to write on that WOWS employers. Find out how)

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.

Sincerely,

Full Name

Enclosure: Resume

That’s it! The above template provides what I believe to be the most important parts to any cover letter.

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Photo Credit: Shutterstock


Debra WheatmanDebra Wheatman, president of Careers Done Write, is globally recognized as an expert in advanced career search techniques. She helps clients obtain highly desired interviews for competitive positions.

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