A cover letter is a document designed to accompany your resume when you apply for a job. Whether you're applying online or hand-delivering your materials, you need to provide a cover letter each time you apply for a job. Learning to design, write, and revise a good one can make or break your opportunity to become hired by a company.
A cover letter makes your first impression on the manager, because it's your first instance of "speaking" to the employer. It gives you a chance to communicate in writing to the hiring manager, using a formal greeting and a bit of your own personality. The cover letter should be grammatically perfect, polished, and written in a positive and professional tone. This conveys to the employer that you're ready for workplace communication. Use "Dear" for your salutation and "Sincerely" for your valediction, or ending, and thank the employer for her time.
A Chance to Show Yourself
The body of the cover letter is a chance to develop a better picture of who you are and what you've done in the past. An employer wants to see experience, not degrees and years in other jobs. Highlight actual concrete details about what you've accomplished in the past. For example, you might write, "For the past two years I have spent more than 800 hours in the classroom teaching adults how to communicate in English." Or, you might point to specific achievements, such as, "During my tenure as sales manager, I surpassed the company sales quota every month during 2012, and was awarded a Gold Sales Award for my work." Show that you're proud of the work you do, and you'll get the employer's attention.
Use the Appropriate Method
If you're dropping off your resume in person, a cover letter should accompany it and should be printed on high quality paper. If you're emailing your resume or submitting it through an online system, attach a document or PDF file of your letter. In some cases, it's okay to use the body of an email as your cover letter. Do this only if you are directly emailing the person considering you for the job. If, instead, you are emailing a generic company email address such as "HR@company.com," attach both your cover letter and your resume to the email.
A Tailored Document
Finally, a cover letter is like a greeting card. It should be tailored to the occasion and should be targeted directly toward the company to which you're applying. Never send a generic cover letter to several companies at once. Employers read so many applications that they'll know instantly if your cover letter was mass produced. Instead, name the company by it's title and explain why, specifically, you want to work there. Catch the employer's attention by knowing about the company you're applying to. For example, you might mention that you're impressed with the company's community service initiatives and want to take part.
Jan Archer holds a Bachelor of Arts in political science and a master's degree in creative writing. Roth has written trade books for Books-a-Million and has published articles on green living, wellness and education topics. She taught business writing, literature, creative writing and English composition at the college level for five years.