Write a Winning Cover Letter in 15 Minutes

Selena Dehne, JIST Publishing

Most job seekers know that to land an interview they need more than a strong resume. They need a well-written cover letter to go with it. That doesn't stop them from trying to brainstorm any excuse they can to avoid having to write one.

Yet, skipping this critical step in the job search is one of the worst faux pas a job seeker can make.

"Job seekers should never send a resume to someone without explaining why," says Michael Farr, author of The Quick Resume & Cover Letter Book, Fourth Edition (JIST - 2008).

"Whether you're mailing, faxing or e-mailing your resume, it's important to provide a cover letter with it. Even when you post your resume to a job bank or employer Web site, the site often has a place where you can upload or paste a cover letter. The fact is most employers expect candidates to send both."

Writing a cover letter shouldn't be difficult or time consuming, even though many job seekers mistakenly believe it is. If a person has 15 minutes to spare, they have enough time to write a cover letter, according to Farr.

Fifteen minutes?!"You can write a cover letter that is personal and effective in about 15 minutes. It may take you longer at first, but after a few times, you should understand the process well enough that you'll be able to quickly create the letter, review it and send it to employers," says Farr.His process for crafting a quick and effective cover letter includes the following steps:

1. Write to a Particular Person

Whenever possible, avoid writing "To whom it may concern" or other impersonal openings. Instead, make an effort to find out who the hiring manager is. Call the company or research on the Web. In the case of a "blind ad," a generic salutation will have to do.

2. Provide a Friendly Opening

In addition to stating why they have sent their resume and cover letter, job seekers should remind the reader of any prior contact they may have had. For example, "I am following up on the brief phone chat we had earlier today," or "I enjoyed our conversation at the recent CPA Society meeting and, as you suggested, I am forwarding my resume with this letter of interest in joining your organization."

3. Personalize Your Content

Job seekers should steer clear of merge mailings that allow them to send the exact same letter to multiple employers. Hiring managers can see right through these and are seldom impressed. It's important that whoever receives the letter believes it was written specifically to them.

4. Target Your Skills and Experience

Include any relevant background or achievements that may be of particular interest to the employer. To know which details to include, job seekers must have a little knowledge about the organization. This can be gathered from Internet research or talking with people who are familiar with the organization or its staff members.

5. Close with an Action Statement and Contact Information

Never leave it up to the employer to make the next step. Job seekers should express an interest for further contact and say which steps they will take next. For example, "I will contact you next week to request an interview for current or future positions. Feel free to contact me sooner at (555) 348-7987."

Once the letter has been written, proofread it several times and gather feedback on it from other people. Next, choose which method -- mail, fax or e-mail -- is most likely to quickly get the cover letter and resume to employers. Most importantly, don't forget to follow-up once the resume and cover letter have been sent!

Next: 8 Resume Editing Tips >>

Selena Dehne is a career writer for JIST Publishing who shares the latest occupational, career and job search information available with job seekers and career changers. Her articles help people find meaningful work, develop their career and life plans, and carry out effective job search campaigns.

Copyright 2008 Selena Dehne, JIST Publishing

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