How to write a cover letter

how to write a cover letter

Many students are unaware of how to write a cover letter. A cover letter should not merely be a resume in paragraph form. Readers don’t need a basic summary of everything you’ve ever done. Mostly the cover letter is used to highlight the critical resume features that are impressive and relevant to the specific job. You have to show what aspects of your background make you a good fit for the position. The cover letter needs to show the real you, the best of you. They should emphasize what you can as an employee.

A great cover letter will help you to beat other candidates for the specific job posting and make your application stand out in the pile. A successful cover letter should explain why you are applying for this particular job. So, there aren’t any sequential steps as like resume while writing a cover letter. In this article, we will see how to write a cover letter. Talk to potential employers directly while in resume it is awkward to make direct reference to a company.

Before starting to write:

One application does not fit all:

Many students make the mistake of having a generic cover letter and sending the same to every job they are applying for. These will be always focusing on the applicant and consequently feel strangely unconnected to the target position. This will never fulfill the purpose. Instead, try to focus on the needs of the employer rather than yourself and your needs. Read the job posting carefully as your cover letter need to engage with it. This doesn’t mean that you have to draft a new cover letter every time for any new job. Keep some templates and make changes accordingly to every application.

Make Your own Letterhead:

How your cover letter should look like? It is always recommended to have a letterhead of your own. Either you can design it yourself or get help from a professional designer. Make sure that your header is not taking a lot of spaces.  The easy way for it is to simply copy the contact information from your resume’s header and use the same. This will make your name and contact information nice and prominent, and provide some additional consistency across the multiple documents in your application packet.

Things to take care:
  • Make sure you use the correct spelling of the person you are addressing.
  • Avoid Dear Sir or Madam, or “To whom it may concern” as they feel old.
  • Be 100% sure that the person is a Mr. or Mrs. or Miss as some first names confuse the gender. If unsure use the full name without a title.
  • Make sure you are using correct dates
  • Don’t repeat the contact info it is already in the letterhead
Deconstructing the job posting:

As we discussed our cover letter should be specific to the job requirement. So, you have to deconstruct the job posting to write an effective cover letter. Read the job description carefully and if you have any related experiences of their requirement points, add that to the cover letter.

Research about the company

It’s important to do some research about the company you’re applying for. Check whether you can get any details related to your vision or passion. It will help you to describe why you want to work for the specific company and make it personalized.

Sections of Cover Letter

There’s going to be three basic sections to a cover letter, an Introductory Paragraph, some Body Paragraphs, and a Concluding Paragraph.

Introductory Paragraph:

The introductory paragraph is where you make the first impression.  Use it describe the purpose of the letter. To increase the chances of reaching your application to the right desk, use the first sentence to state that you are applying, the position title and the posting number. Mention the posting number if available as a company may have different postings with the same title. In the next sentence, it is a good practice to say how you came to know about this position. This helps the company to track their promotional efforts for recruitment. Sometimes this will also help to demonstrate your relationship with the company which is a valuable starting point. Keep your opening paragraph simple and with no stories or creativity. Be practical and make it easy for hiring a team.

Bad examples:
  • I am currently pursuing a bachelor’s degree in computer science engineering at Paavai Institutions. (This don’t state that you are applying for something)
  • My name is Mohammed Ramees (You already have your name at the headline)
  • “I am writing in response to your job posting” or, “I noticed your ad on” or “I came across your advertisement” (These sounds passive and not direct)
Good examples:
  • I am writing to apply for the position of Android Developer of ABC Software Solutions (Posting number: 12345). I have extensive experience in Android and have three apps in the store having a combined download of 1 million.
Body Paragraph:

The body paragraph is the largest part of your cover letter. This is where you make or break a slot at interview. The first thing to establish here is the relevance of your background to the particular position. The second goal of the body paragraph is to establish how familiar you are with the company. Deconstructing the job posting can give you the raw materials to work with. Here you shouldn’t talk about everything you have done. The body of the cover letter should not replicate the resume and should not be a list also. Instead, the body of the cover letter should draw attention to and expands on some key aspects of your working experience.

Bring the specifics and evidence to the body of the cover letter and show why you are a perfect fit for this position. Don’t just tell, show your success and results. Add some factual evidence or results like any awards, commendations in the workplace, sales numbers or subscriptions to the body. Rather than telling that your work under pressure, share an experience or story that proves the same.

Concluding Paragraph

First, thank the reader for considering your application. This gesture to politeness may seem self-evident, but you’d be surprised how many people leave it off. And the last thing, indicate your availability for an interview.  Many candidates use to be very flattery in the footer by using the sentences like “I always wanted to work in a company like you as ….” or “I am much excited to be part of such a talented team”. These will just annoy the hiring manager. It is also not a good practice to use words like “I look forward to a favorable response from you” as this is a kind of presuming too much.

A good practice is to have a closing line like.

I have enclosed my resume and two references as requested. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely
(sign)
Mohammed Ramees
Enclosures (3)

A sign will give a personal and human touch to the cover letter. Enclosures define that there are some other documents along with it. This makes sure the hiring manager to look for other documents also.

Technical Details

Let’s see some basic writing style and editing points that will make your cover letter shine. Try to have formatting and appearance that is consistent with your resume. All these points make it easier on the hiring manager and on the hiring manager’s eyes.

  1. Use short sentences
    Try to keep your sentences short with an average of 10 to 15 words per sentence and stick to only one point per sentence.
  2. Short paragraphs
    Keep your paragraph focused and short. Use an average of 4-6 sentences per paragraph. Make sure each paragraph has a purpose
  3. Use I’s variation
    Using ‘I’ will help you in the direct active voice. Use variations like “My work”, awarded me with” if you think you are using ‘I’ too much.
  4. Read the sentences out loud
    Your ears will catch more errors and awkwardness than your eyes will.
  5. Run spellcheck and grammar check.
    Spelling errors will get your application tossed in the garbage.  It just shows a lack of attention to detail. Use Grammarly to check the writing
  6. Get someone to read it
    Once you are done with writing ask someone else to read it. They’ll see things you don’t.
  7. Perfection doesn’t happen in a day
    Start the writing and editing process a week or more in advance of the deadlines. Read it every day. Your mind will come back fresh and you’ll see errors more easily.
Formatting the letter
  1. Only one page long
    Make sure your letter is only one page long to get it to read.  Only highly experienced people should go for two-page cover letters. There is enough room on a single page to fit all the things you want to say.
  2. Use Times New Roman or a similar font
    Make it easier for your readers by not using any crazy or unusual fonts. Some fonts are harder to read to some eyes.
  3. Use 12 Font size
    A recommended font size is 12 point. Anything smaller may be annoying and hard on the eyes for many people.
  4. Use one-inch borders
    Don’t try to squeeze as many words in a page by pinching the margins. It is recommended to have one-inch borders around the page.

Things to avoid in a cover letter

Avoid the following mistakes that can weaken the effectiveness of the cover letter

Don’t
  1. Take too long to make your point
    A good cover letter should be concise and communicate maximum impact with minimum words.
  2. Oversell yourself
    Keep your enthusiasm but don’t oversell. Avoid sentences like “I can guarantee you that no one else can fill this position as well as me”, “I honestly feel like my entire career has been leading to this”
  3. Talk about your salary in a cover letter
    Unless it is asked to, it is not a good practice to talk about the salary in the cover letter. It will take the focus off what you can provide for the company. The time to deal with salary is during the interview.
  4. Just list the skills
    Just listing the skills in the body text of the cover letter is useless they are unique. There are millions of other people who know Microsoft Excel. Instead, show how you have utilized those skills in your past or what results you have achieved with those skills. Example: A targeted Facebook marketing has helped me to increase the sales by 100%.
  5. Use the term “Held a position”
    Keep away the term “held a position” as it feels like you have been forced or assigned. If the same information is already on the resume don’t repeat it on the cover letter. Also, focus on results than too much on learning. Example: Use “That position helped me to achieve” than “That position helped me to learn more about”
  6. Be egotistical and presumptuous
    For some hiring managers, it feels egotistical and is very presumptuous to state things like “I am the ideal candidate” or “I am going to greatly benefit your team”. It is them to judge that.
Avoid
  1. Mentioning the reason why you are leaving your current job
    It’s a mistake to bring up in the cover letter the reason why you are leaving your current job. Keep the emphasis on what you want to do in the future, not what you’ve done in the past.
  2. Vague statements
    Anyone can say that I am hardworking, dedicated, active, committed, enthusiastic, motivated, willing to learn or team player. Before writing any statements, ask yourself, could anyone can say this or it is unique to me? Can I provide any evidence for the same? Show these qualities with proof instead of telling.
    Example: I was selected as a Microsoft Student Partner during my college. I believe it has given me an opportunity to organize events, share my knowledge with others, the experience of interacting with other peoples and the ability to work in a team.
  3. Trying to sound smart
    When you try to sound this way, you write awkward sentences.
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