by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., and Katharine Hansen, Ph.D.
Here are the keys for jobseekers in writing successful (and dynamic) job-search cover letters. Follow these simple rules and guidelines and you should achieve success in this important phase of job-hunting, helping lead you to the next phase… job interviews.
- Don’t ever apply for a job without a cover letter, no matter how well you’ve learned how to write a resume.
- Do address your letter to a named individual.
- Don’t use a generic salutation, such as “To Whom It May Concern” when answering a blind ad.
- Don’t waste your first paragraph by writing a boring introduction. Use the first paragraph to grab the employer’s attention; give the employer the reasons you are qualified for the position.
- Do send an original letter to each employer.
- Don’t use cliches, such as, “Enclosed, please find my resume.” Employers can see that your resume is enclosed; they don’t need you to tell them. Such trite phrases just waste precious space.
- Don’t send a cover letter that contains any typos, misspellings, incorrect grammar or punctuation, smudges, or grease from yesterday’s lunch.
- Do use simple language and uncomplicated sentence structure. Ruthlessly eliminate all unnecessary words. Follow the journalist’s credo: Write tight!
- Do write cover letters that are unique and specific to you, but if you’re having troubles getting started, consider using our Dynamic Cover Letter Formula. And do take advantage of these free cover letter samples.
Don’t send a cover letter that contains any typos, misspellings, incorrect grammar or punctuation, smudges, or grease from yesterday’s lunch.
- Do speak to the requirements of the job, especially when responding to an ad.
- Do keep your letter brief. It should never be longer than one page, and it’s best to keep it well under a full page. Each paragraph should have no more than one to three sentences.
- Do tell the employer how you can meet his or her needs and contribute to the company.
- Do distinguish your cover letter from those of other jobseekers by quantifying and giving examples that amplify and prove the claims you make in your letter.
- Do try to answer the question that the employer will be asking while reading your letter: “Why should I hire this person?” Answer with your Unique Selling Proposition.
- Don’t rehash your resume. You can use your cover letter to highlight the aspects of your resume that are relevant to the position, but you’re wasting precious space – and the potential employer’s time – if you simply repeat your resume.
- Do avoid negativity. Negativity never has a place in a cover letter.
- Do be sure the potential employer can reach you.
- Do avoid the three most common cover letter mistakes.
- Do use action verbs to describe your experience.
- Don’t forget to personally sign the letter, preferably in blue ink.
Some of these dos and don’ts are taken from Dynamic Cover Letters.Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Jobseeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.
Katharine Hansen, Ph.D., creative director and associate publisher of Quintessential Careers, is an educator, author, and blogger who provides content for Quintessential Careers blogs about storytelling in the job search at A Storied Career. Katharine, who earned her Ph.D in organizational behavior from Union Institute & University, is author of Dynamic Cover Letters for New Graduates and A Foot in the Door: Networking Your Way into the Hidden Job Market, as well as Top Notch Executive Resumes. With Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D., she also authored Dynamic Cover Letters, Write Your Way to a Higher GPA (Ten Speed), and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Study Skills. Visit her personal website. Check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.
Dr. Randall S. Hansen is founder of Quintessential Careers, one of the oldest and most comprehensive career development sites on the Web, as well CEO of EmpoweringSites.com. He is also founder of MyCollegeSuccessStory.com and EnhanceMyVocabulary.com. Dr. Hansen is also a published author, with several books, chapters in books, and hundreds of articles. He’s often quoted in the media and conducts empowering workshops around the country. Finally, Dr. Hansen is also an educator, having taught at the college level for more than 15 years. Visit his personal website, or check out Dr. Hansen on GooglePlus.
Additional Resources for Jobseekers:
I review many, many products. And of those many, many products, many (though not many, many) require that I sign some sort of document saying that I won’t steal, damage or forget to return the product in question.
When I get one of these forms from a PR person, it’s almost always a Word document and I’m almost always asked to print it out, sign it, and fax it back.
Yes, fax it. Fax the form. Send the form via fax machine. Did we lose a war?!
The irony of returning an e-mailed form by fax is one thing. The fact that I don’t own a fax machine is another, more serious thing. It’s Y2K11 for cracked ice! I have access to a few of those fax-by-e-mail services but—come on, it’s still fax. Dumb, backwards, old fax.
So. How to sign and return a Word document without printing it out or, more importantly, faxing it? There’s a fancy, official, authenticated way to do this (see here) but I’ll show you how to quickly and easily “sign” your name to a Word document without jumping through a bunch of hoops.
Ready? Let’s begin.
This is a one-time deal, so think of it like getting your wisdom teeth pulled. If you’d like to skip ahead, we’re basically going to create an image file of your “signature” and save it as a PNG file with a transparent background. If you already know how to do that, go ahead and do it.
If not, here’s how to do it using Microsoft Paint. It’s a free program loaded onto every Windows computer so we’ll use it because it’s the lowest common denominator as far as image editing programs go. These steps should be similar in other image editing programs, too.
Open up Paint and click the text tool (it’s a little “A” icon). Then click on the far left side of your canvas. From the drop-down menu of fonts, select a font that looks sort of like handwriting. We’ll use “Bradley Hand ITC” for this little project but feel free to pick whichever one you like best. If you’re looking for the ultimate in classy signatures, check out “Comic Sans” instead.
Then set the font size at something large-ish and type your name. If your full name doesn’t fit, decrease the font size until it does. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can try to draw your name with the pen tool instead but it’ll probably end up looking like a toddler signed it with his non-dominant hand.
Make sure that “Transparent” is selected inside the Background heading. Once you’ve gotten everything in place, select Save as > PNG picture and name the file something easy to remember.
If you don’t like the idea of using a computer-generated font to make your signature, there’s another route to follow. Take out a piece of paper and write your absolute best signature — go ahead and have a few practice turns if you want first. Once you’re satisfied with your John Hancock, simply take out your smartphone and snap a picture of it. Then email that picture to yourself and head over to your desktop computer. Download the picture from your self-email, open it up in Paint, and follow these same instructions to create a digital replica of your true signature.
Okay, that was the hard part. Now let’s move on to the easy stuff.
Now we’ll open up the Word document we’re supposed to sign and click somewhere near the signature line. Then choose Insert > Picture from the menu and select the image file you created in the previous step.
So we’ve gotten the file into the document but now we have to make it look like it belongs there. To do that, right-click on the image and select Format Picture… from the menu that pops up.
Then click the Layout tab and under Wrapping style, choose Behind text and click the OK button.
After that, position the picture so it looks like a real-life signature.
You’re all set. Save the document and e-mail back to whoever had the gall to ask you to fax it.
For an extra touch of class—and to make sure they can’t see that you simply dumped an image file of your signature into their Word file—save the document as a PDF instead. I’m pretty sure that PDF stands for pretty damn fancy in the business world.