Generally, cover letters are no more than one-page in length and contain three or four short paragraphs that address the following: the opening, your technical qualifications for the job, pertinent personal characteristics that fit the position,
and the closing. Depending on the amount of information you are presenting, paragraphs #2 and #3 can either be combined or separated - it is a judgment call on your part based primarily on how much information you convey. Focusing on each of
these paragraphs, here are some important points to remember.
Write to a specific person, using name and title as much as possible. You can call the organization's human resource department and ask them who the letter should be addressed to. By listing the specifics, it gives the impression that you spent more time on the letter, instead of mass mailing out several of the same cover letters to employers.
Print your cover letter on the same page you printed your resume on. Mail them in a large 9 x 12 envelope to avoid folding and creasing your documents. Larger envelopes typically get opened first, which is another advantage.
Proofread, check and recheck. Any mistake on your cover letter or resume will usually result in it immediately being discarded.
Paragraph #1: The Opening
Identifying your source of information about the job is, for the most part, a rather simple and conventional way to begin the dialogue. For employers, it clarifies the intent of your letter as well as gives them some sense of the effectiveness of the various methods they use to advertise employment listings. For you, it affords you the opportunity to specify the job or corporate division or geographic location in which you are most interested. And, if you happen to have been referred and/or encouraged to apply by some influential person in your
employment network, identifying the individual by name in this initial paragraph may be beneficial (e.g., your cover letter and resume may be routed more expeditiously through the review process). In your opening, it is also appropriate to refer to any research or knowledge you have about that specific employer. This type of foresight is usually seen as going the extra mile, and can be used to impress the employer right away.
Paragraph #2: Your Technical Qualifications
In this paragraph, you will go into brief detail about why you are qualified for this position. If you have access to a job description or employment listing, focus on the skills and qualifications that are asked for that you possess. Give specific examples of your ability to meet and exceed the expectations of the position. Your education, any relevant work experience/extracurricular activities or internships would be addressed in this paragraph. Use the employer's wording or terminology whenever possible.
Paragraph #3: Your Personal Characteristics and Motivation for the Job
In this section, you will focus on your personal characteristics that you feel are impressive or that meet the employer's needs. Sometimes this information can be found directly in the job listing or description, but many times, you must identify for yourself what the most important personal characteristics would be in a position.
For example, a 911 operator would need to stay calm under pressure; a human resources manager would need to get along well with others and have good communication skills; an accountant must be extremely detail-oriented, etc.
In this paragraph, you should also mention your motivation for wanting the position. Be sure the reasons you list are intrinsic, rather than for money or status. Let the employer know why you would be a good fit for the job.
Paragraph #4: The Closing
Much has been written about how to close a cover letter, and many of the examples seem to suggest either passive or aggressive closings. If every employer took the time to respond to every cover letter they received, then a passive closing would suffice. However, employers are often inundated with responses to position listings and often lack the time or resources to respond to everyone. As a way of maintaining control, some job campaign strategy writers recommend a more aggressive tactic.
In-between these extremes is an assertive approach that seems to meet the job candidate's need for maintaining some control while, at the same time, offering him/her another opportunity to demonstrate interest and professionalism. Using this approach, you would close the cover letter with a sentence like: Thank you for your consideration of my credentials. I will contact your office in the next ten days to see if you require any additional information regarding my qualifications. About ten days later, you contact the employer to see if their decision process might be expedited by your completing a company application form, or by forwarding a copy of your transcripts, a list of your references, a writing sample, etc. By making this call and offering supplemental information, you are demonstrating sound, professional business skills. And, after you have made the offer, it is quite appropriate for you to then inquire about the disposition of their search process, and in particular, the status of your candidacy. This process is only valid, however, if the candidate is willing to make the follow up call. If you question your ability to make the call or make it on time, you should close with an invitation for the employer to contact you for an interview. Always remember to thank the employer for their time and consideration.