A cover letter is your first chance to demonstrate professionalism to a future employer. In the letter, your goal is to introduce yourself and highlight your skills and qualities. While a resume shows your work experience, a cover letter speaks specifically about your goals and characteristics -- and is often key when it comes to landing the interview. Take some time to carefully craft an effective letter before you press "send" or put a stamp on the envelope.
Use Block Letter Format
Always treat a cover letter as a formal business letter even if you're emailing it. This means using a proper salutation such as "Dear Ms. Smith" or "Dear Mr. Jones" at the beginning. If you do plan to send the letter via regular mail, print the letter on white paper. Include your complete address and date at the top of the letter. Always single space a formal business letter and do not indent at the beginning of each paragraph.
In the first paragraph of the letter, indicate the position of interest and how you found out about it. Follow this information with a sentence that serves as an overview of yourself as a candidate. For example, you might state, "With three years teaching experience at the college level, my communication skills would bring great value to the role of administrative coordinator at your university." This opening paragraph can end after only two or three sentences because you will discuss specific details in the middle paragraph.
Describe Your Qualifications
In the middle paragraph, detail your experience that is most relevant to the position. While you should not repeat verbatim what is also in your resume, you should describe the experience using concrete details such as how long you held a position and what you gained from the position. For example, you could state, "As indicated on my resume, I've spent four years working with ESL students in a college writing lab. This experience afforded me the insight and knowledge to design curriculum for second language learners." You might also want to focus on your accomplishments/results by offering specific information. For example, if you coordinated a successful charity event, you could describe your accomplishments concerning the event by stating, "Under my leadership, we were able to raise more than $20,000 to benefit leukemia research, a 5 percent increase from the previous year's event."
Contact Information and Closing
Close the letter by suggesting that you are available for an interview -- and include the appropriate contact information even if that information is on your resume. In the closing paragraph, state that the reviewer can contact you via phone or email, and list both your phone number and email address. Thank the hiring manager for her time and consideration. End the letter with the formal closing, "Sincerely," followed by your full name. If you print the letter, sign your name in the space between the formal closing and your printed name.
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.