To Whom It May Concern: Cover Letters 101

What’s the hardest part of the job search process? Updating your resume? Preparing for the interview? Writing the cover letter? Well, if you said, “Writing the cover letter,” you’re in luck, because we’re going over some basic cover letter tips that every job seeker needs to know:

Don’t Just Repeat Your Resume

No, a cover letter is not simply a resume in paragraph form. Your cover letter will be sent with your resume, so why just repeat what’s already written? Your cover letter is a great way to show your interest in the position, knowledge about the field and a little bit of personality, too. Don’t waste this opportunity by rewriting your resume.

Don’t Cut and Paste from the Job Description

The hiring managers wrote the job description, so they want to read how you fit the job in your words, not in their words. You should take cues from the job description, but tailor your message to present yourself in the best light.

Try to Tell Your Story

Pair your qualifications with examples of success to tell your professional story. Saying you have a skill is one thing, but being able to back up your claim with anecdote about your success is even better. You can also tell your story by filling in the gaps left in your resume. For example, if there is a gap in your career for when you took time off to go to school to advance, explain that in your cover letter. You could also make up for any face-value detractions in your resume. For example, if the position requires five years of full-time experience, but you have four years of internship experience, use your cover letter as a place to include projects you worked on, knowledge you gained, how they were similar to a full-time position and how you grew as a professional.

Watch Out for Misspellings and Grammar Errors

Check, double check and triple check for misspellings and grammar errors in both your cover letter and resume. Some hiring managers disqualify you immediately if they spot errors in either. After you go through your application with a fine-toothed comb, have a friend take a look, too. Two sets of eyes are better than one!

Less is More

Hiring managers read dozens of applications, so they won’t enjoy spending a lot of time reading through yours. Keep it short and sweet. Never go over one page, but try to keep it at three to four paragraphs.

Phrases to Avoid

Avoid using these phrases, as they make you look inexperienced:

  • “To Whom it May Concern” Research for the hiring manager’s name.
  • “My name is _, and I am applying for the _ opportunity with company XYZ.” The hiring manager has deduced this from the fact you submitted your resume.
  • Any sentence beginning with “I feel…” or “I believe…” Use a stronger phrase, like “I am confident,” instead.

Like all aspects of the job hunt, cover letters can be difficult. They’re a great opportunity to put your best foot forward, and they’re also a way to sink your application if done wrong. If you spend a quality time and write it carefully, your cover letter can put you on the path to your dream job.

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