You may have spent hours or even days working on your resume in order to impress a hiring manager and now is not the time to overlook the importance of the cover letter. The cover letter can pass on a lot of information about you and your level of professionalism, so be sure to give even the simplest cover letter the attention it deserves. You need to know who you're writing to and then formulate the letter to use proper etiquette and language.
Read and re-read the job description to get a good idea of who the company is looking for and the skills you possess that match that description. Be realistic as you read the description, and don't oversell yourself by claiming to have the skills they want if you really don't. It's acceptable not to have them all -- you'll just need to prove your willingness and ability to learn when you land the job interview.
Research the company to get as much information as you can about who they are, what they stand for and the reputation they have in the community. Visit the company website and social media sites and read any consumer reviews you can find online. From this research, you may discover that the company has certain "holes" in its production, or certain needs that you can fill. This is valuable information you may be able to -- tactfully -- convey in your cover letter.
Start a new word processing document on your computer. Cover letters should be typed in nearly every circumstance.
Type today's date on the top right of the letter. On the next line, directly below the date, include your full contact information; your name on one line, address on the next line, city and state on the next line, telephone number on the next line, and email address on the next.
Address the cover letter to the hiring manager or human resources officer named in the job description. Type the person's name in the top left of the page, and then type the company name just below it and the company address on the subsequent lines. Double-check your spelling here; misspelling the company's name or address displays a serious lack of attention to detail.
Begin the letter by addressing the person or department to which the application materials are meant to be addressed. For example, write "Dear Hiring Manager," replacing "hiring manager" with the specific person's name, if you have it.
Use the first paragraph to introduce yourself, mention the job for which you are applying and tell the hiring manager how you found out about the job. Mention any company employees who may have referred you. At the end of the paragraph, include one sentence about why you're interested in the company or position, without showering the hiring staff with too many compliments that may seem like brown-nosing. Since you're trying to write a simple cover letter, keep this section to three or four short sentences.
Outline the qualifications you possess that make you a good candidate for the job. Again, do not gush over your skills -- just be honest and straightforward. Do not simply rehash what is on your resume, but instead take a particular skill that the company is looking for -- which you learned from studying the job description -- and explain how your previous experience allowed you to hone that skill. Detail one or two specific skills you possess, keeping this paragraph to five to six sentences.
Create a third paragraph that explains, in one sentence, a solution or idea you may have for enhancing the company, taking care not to insult the managers with a lot of detail about the company's shortcomings. Then invite the hiring managers to contact you via email or telephone, and thank them for their time. Keep this paragraph to two to three sentences.
- If you send the cover letter via email, it is appropriate to write the cover letter in the body of the email, but it's also a good idea to include a .PDF version in letter format as an attachment.
- Keep things professional. Do not include shorthand text such as "Plz" for "Please," or emoticons in the subject line or anywhere in the cover letter, advises the University of Iowa, as this can make you look unprofessional.
- Be sure to include a simple, professional subject line, without using all capital letters, as this can look like spam.
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.