Before a potential employer reads a word of your cover letter, he or she has already assessed your organizational skills and attention to detail by observing the appearance of the letter and resume. How your letter looks makes a big impression and can mean the difference between serious consideration and a negative response.
By following the guidelines below you can create a professional, impressive letter.
Format and Presentation
- Length of the Cover Letter
Four short paragraphs on one page is the ideal length for a cover letter. A longer letter is unlikely to be read.
- Paper Size
Use standard 8x11 inch paper. If you use a smaller size, the correspondence will appear more personal than professional; a larger size would look awkward. Also, non-standard paper sizes are easily lost in employer's files or may be discarded.
- Paper Color and Quality
Like your resume, white and ivory are the acceptable choices for a cover letter. You should use the same paper that you use for your resume. Standard office paper is generally acceptable for most positions. Executive and top-level positions may require more formal, heavier weight paper.
- Preprinted Stationery
Do not use pre-printed stationery unless you are a top-level executive with years of experience. Never use the stationery of your current employer.
- Typing and Printing
Use a computer/word processor with letter-quality type style. Print out a letter each time you send it to an employer. If you do not have access to a computer, using a typewriter is acceptable as long as there are no mistakes. Do not send handwritten letters.
- The Envelope
Mail your cover letter in a standard, business-sized envelope in the same quality paper as your letter and resume. Type your envelope and include the complete name and title of the specific contact person you identified in your letter. Also include your return address in the upper left corner.
- Return Address
Your return address should appear in the top left hand corner, without your name. Do not use abbreviations except for the two-letter state abbreviation.
- The Date
The date should appear two lines beneath your return address on the left hand side of the page. Write out the full date; do not use abbreviations.
Example: November 1, 2002
- The Addressee
Always try to find out the name and proper title of the addressee before sending out a cover letter. Two lines beneath the date, list the full name of the addressee. On the next line, list the individual's formal business title; on the subsequent line, list the name of the company. This is followed by the company's address, which generally takes two lines. Occasionally, the title or company name and address will be long and can appear awkward on the usual number of lines allocated. In this case, you may use an extra line.
- The Salutation
The salutation should be typed two lines beneath the company's address. Begin with "Dear Mr." or "Dear Ms.", followed by the individual's last name and a colon, even if you have spoken with an addressee who asked to be called by his or her first name. If you are unable to find the specific name of the person who will be receiving your letter you may use "Dear Sir" or "Madam" or "To Whom it May Concern."
- First Paragraph
State immediately and concisely which position you wish to be considered for and what makes you the best candidate for that position. If you are responding to a classified ad, reference the publication you found it in and the date the ad appeared. Keep the first paragraph short and hard-hitting.
Example: Having majored in Paralegal Studies at Peirce College, where I also worked as a research assistant, I am confident that I would make a successful research trainee in your Law Research Department.
Example: Seeking a new challenge, I was pleased to notice your advertisement for a Product Manager in the May 17th Philadelphia Inquirer. Over the last four years, I have consistently delivered new and innovative products to market.
- Second Paragraph
Detail what you can contribute to the company and show how your qualifications will benefit the company. If you are responding to a classified ad, specifically discuss how your skills relate to the job requirements stated. Keep it brief and to the point.
Example: In addition to my strong background in mathematics, I also offer significant business experience, having worked in a data processing firm, a bookstore, and a restaurant. I am sure that my courses in statistics and computer programming would prove particularly useful in the position of research trainee.
Example: As a product manager for Allied Software, I managed three product launches within 12 months. This included organizing and implementing a direct mail campaign, a product tour, and trade show presentations before industry analysts. As a result of these marketing efforts, revenues exceeded goals by 35%.
- Third Paragraph
Describe your interest in the company. Subtly emphasize your knowledge about the company (discovered through your research efforts) and your familiarity with the industry. Present yourself as eager (but not desperate) to work for the company to which you are applying.
Example: I am attracted to City Bank by your recent rapid growth and the superior reputation of your Economic Research Department. After studying different commercial banks, I have concluded that City Bank will be in a strong competitive position to benefit from upcoming changes in the industry, such as the phasing out of Regulation Q.
Example: Your company recently announced plans to move into networking software linking desktop personal computers to mainframe computers. With my success in bringing this type of software to market, I am confident that I can help Norville become a market leader in this fast-growing (about 65% annually) market.
- Final Paragraph
In the closing paragraph, specifically request an interview. Include your phone number and the hours you can be reached (but not in too much detail), and mention that you will follow-up with a phone call within a certain amount of time to arrange an interview at a mutually convenient time.
- The Closing
The closing should be two lines beneath the body of the letter and should be aligned to the right hand side of the page. Simply close the letter with Sincerely. Four lines beneath this, type your full name as it appears on your resume. Dont forget to sign above your name in black ink.
- The Enclosure Line
If you are enclosing a resume or other material with your letter, include an enclosure line, flush left at the very bottom of the page.
Example: Enc. Resume