Resumes are impersonal in that they don't reveal much about a candidate's personality, while a cover letter gives you a chance to show who are and sell yourself, letting the reader know why you're the best candidate for the job. It's generally a big no-no to write a generic cover letter and send it out to multiple places; however, you can create a template letter-- and then tailor it with information that's specific to a position and company. This will save you time -- and ensure that you include your key qualities and skills in every letter. Just don't forget to go over a generic cover letter with a fine-toothed comb each time you send it, so you don't include something that's not pertinent to the position, or worse, address it to the wrong person.
Type your contact information, which should include your name, address, telephone number and email address at the top left of the page. This information generally stays the same, but remember to look it over again before you send out the letter.
Insert an extra line space after your contact information and type "DATE" in a bold font to remind yourself that you should fill in the correct date every time you use the letter. In fact, use a bold font for all the various parts of the letter that you know you'll have to tailor each time you send it. Leave another extra line space after "DATE" and type the "INTERVIEWER'S NAME," "COMPANY NAME" and "COMPANY ADDRESS" formatted the same way you formatted your own contact information. Obviously, this information will also change every time you send the letter. Leave a line space after the company's contact information and type "DEAR EMPLOYER" for the interviewer's greeting, indicating that you'll need to include a specific name.
Keep the first paragraph brief in your generic cover letter. Typically, the first paragraph is where you indicate where you heard about the job opportunity and state the position for which you're applying -- all information you won't be able to write generically. To remind yourself that you'll need to customize this paragraph, type "WHERE I HEARD ABOUT THE JOB" and "TITLE OF THE POSITION" in the space where the first paragraph will go.
Outline some of your strengths in the second paragraph. Again, you should tweak this paragraph for a specific position -- but this is where you can include the bulk of your generic information. Your resume details your education, internships and job experience, so you can use this paragraph to talk about what you've learned from those experiences, and how they'll contribute to your career or future position. The trick here is to make sure that whatever you write can apply to many situations -- so you could focus on generic strengths such as perseverance and and sensitivity to deadlines -- although you'll probably still want make some adjustments to fit a particular job description.
Use the third paragraph to invite the interviewer to contact you. Here, you can include information on the best times to contact you, which could stay the same for a while. You might also want to state that you'll contact the interviewer as a follow-up to your resume. Generally, you don't have to include a specific date when you intend to follow up, but if you do, use a bold font and indicate "DATE," so you remember to change the contact date every time you send the letter.
Include a friendly, "I look forward to meeting you" as your last sentence. You can end the letter with "Sincerely" -- and then type your name several lines down.
Name the generic cover letter "Generic Cover Letter Template" or some other title that makes it easy to find when you need to send a cover letter. When you enter in specific information for an individual employer, save it again as a new document, naming it with the company's name or the name of the job title. Since you might send the letter as an email attachment, you definitely don't want the interviewer seeing a document named "Generic Cover Letter Template."
- You should always single-space your cover letter.
- Keep in mind that you should always address a cover letter to a specific person -- and never use the greeting, "To Whom It May Concern." If you're unsure of the interviewer's name, you can sometimes find the information on a company's website, but if you can't, it's appropriate to call a company and ask.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.