“A cover letter can make the difference between two equally qualified candidates,”

-John O’Neill, Assistant Dean of the Career Education for Stanford University.

There’s a lot of conflict over whether cover letters are meaningful and if job candidates actually need to write them anymore. This is a valid question and an ongoing argument. Spoiler alert: cover letters are still essential to applying for jobs. Think about how many people are applying for the exact same position you might be going for. A well-written cover letter might be the difference between you and every other similar resume. Let’s break down each section of the cover letter and touch on some finer points to consider:

Address: One toughie about writing cover letters comes before you even start! If you’re thinking, ‘who the heck do I address this to?’ don’t panic! You can either do some research yourself to figure out who it is you need to reach or you can use more general terms. For instance, you may call or go online to find out who is in charge of the department you’re applying to, or you can use the terms ‘Hiring Manager’ or ‘To whom this may concern.’ Don’t guess because you could address the cover letter to the wrong person or misspell a name.

Opening paragraph: What is your purpose? Why are you writing? Are you applying to a specific position? If not, are you trying to figure out what positions will be available? You need to ask yourself some of these questions so you don’t end up lost or frustrated during the process. They key to the opening paragraph is to keep it concise. Get right to the point of why you’re writing and what you’re looking to accomplish. One last thing to note is if you were referred by an employee, friend or relative, note that here.

Body: First and foremost, the body can consist of one, two or even three paragraphs. The sky is the limit when deciding how much information to share. However, there are some general things to keep in mind throughout this section. Each paragraph should not exceed five or six lines because this will make it look long and daunting to read. The sentences should be to the point, so get rid of the ‘fluffy writing’ because the hiring manager will not be having it.

Why are you interested and qualified for the position/organization? What benefits will you bring to the table? The answers to these questions will quite possibly make or break the entire cover letter. One mistake that writes make is creating this long laundry list of reasons why they admire the company as a whole, why their products are their go-to, how the company culture is outstanding. Instead, throw in a few real-life examples and stories! This will make the cover letter more personal and more purposeful! At the end of the day, the hiring manager cares about what you will do for them.

If you are applying for a specific position, identify key words or phrases in the job description and relate those back to your experience. For instance, if the position calls for writing skills: “I have written for a magazine for over four years and I was chosen to edit other writers’ columns before they were published.”

Closing paragraph: By the end of writing cover letters, people tend to run out gas. After all, what is there left to say? Most importantly, you need to come off as put-together and professional. Some great one-liners to conclude your cover letter with are “I would love the opportunity to see how I can contribute” or “I’m excited to show my expertise.” The most important thing is to thank the employer for his/her consideration in regards to the position/organization. Make this portion super short and to the point!

In the end, cover letters are another tool to put you ahead of the job search game. If you take the time to write a well-crafted, genuine cover letter, it might land you your next job! If you have any other cover letter considerations, please share below:

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