A good cover letter can mean the difference between getting called to come in for an interview or receiving a courtesy "Thanks, but no thanks," note in the mail. The goal of your cover letter should be to explain who you are, why you're amazing and how you'll benefit your potential employer's organization. Strike a balance with the tone of your letter, however. Aim for confident, yet humble; indicate that you have plenty to offer, but show that you're also eager to learn.
Always address your cover letter to a specific person, even if getting the information involves some detective work. If the contact person’s name is listed, address the letter, “Dear [First Name] [Last Name] -- don’t use “Mr.,” “Ms.,” or “Mrs.,” especially in the face of ambiguous names, such as Pat, Kelly, Dana or Sam. If the name isn’t listed on the advertisement and your search proves fruitless, don’t use hackneyed phrases such as, “To Whom it May Concern,” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” Try instead, “Dear Hiring Manager,” “Dear Human Resources Department,” or “Dear Head of (insert department title here) Department.”
Right away, your cover letter should grab your potential employer’s attention, as well as explain which job you’re interested in and why you think you deserve a shot. For example, “In the 15 years I’ve been working in retail, I’ve never come across a company whose business principles and philosophy I’m more aligned with than yours. I read in the "Milwaukee Sentinel" that you’re hiring for a sales associate; I’m confident that I would be a valuable addition to your team, as I am dedicated to exceptional service and customer satisfaction. ”
In the body of your cover letter, take two to three short paragraphs -- no more than three or four sentences each -- to outline the skills, qualities and accomplishments that make you a perfect match. Reference the qualifications mentioned in the advertisement, and specifically address how you can meet those needs. Don’t give vague ideals -- include specific, measurable achievements that prove you’re experienced at achieving results. For example, “In your advertisement, you mentioned that you’re seeking a self-starter with a high sales record. While working at the Moffat clothing company, I personally initiated a back to school clothing exchange that set a company-wide record for charitable contributions and doubled our fall sales from the previous year.”
Treat your cover letter like a business deal and close strong. Clearly indicate your desire for an interview. For example, “I’m sure you’re busy interviewing candidates for this position. I’ll call you before Friday to set up a meeting for next week. I’m eager to learn more about the company, and I’d like to answer any additional questions you have.” If you’re unable to track down a phone number for your interviewer, close the letter, “I am very excited about the position. If you call me at (phone number), I can meet with you as early as Monday of next week.” Avoid passive closing phrases, such as, “Please contact me at your earliest convenience,” or “I look forward to hearing from you.” As much as possible, end the cover letter in a way that grants you power to make the next move.
Oubria Tronshaw specializes in topics related to parenting and business. She received a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chicago State University. She currently teaches English at Harper Community College in the Chicago area.