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Craft a Persuasive Cover Letter
By Laura R. Hosid   View more articles by this author
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October 15

When the market is good, employers sometimes overlook cover letters in their hunt for top talent.  But now, when employers are inundated with resumes from qualified applicants, your cover letter can be a valuable opportunity to distinguish yourself.

Cover letters should always be geared towards answering the question “why should we hire you?”  There is no need to waste valuable space regurgitating your resume – the employer has it in his or her hand.  Rather, the cover letter is your chance to expand upon things on your resume – to convey nuanced or detailed information that you could not adequately explain in a bullet point, and to inject some of your personality into the application process.    

It is also your chance to tailor your application to the specific job posting.  If a job listing states that the employer is looking for someone with leadership skills, then your cover letter should address this directly.  But rather than just stating “I have leadership skills” or “I took on leadership roles at XYZ company,” the letter should give a concrete example.  Your motto should always be “show, don’t tell.”

The opening paragraph of the cover letter should start with the basics – who you are and what position you are applying to.  If a contact referred you to the position, drop his or her name up front.  If the job is in another city, this is the place to explain why you are looking to move.  Finally, you should end the opening paragraph with a powerful sentence that provides an overview of the qualifications you will discuss in the rest of the letter, and relates them to the particular job – in other words, a concise one sentence answer to the question “why should we hire you?”  This is your chance to entice the employer to continue reading!

The second and third paragraphs, the body of the letter, should each start with a persuasive topic sentence that provides a roadmap of what you plan to discuss.  In these paragraphs, you need to make a compelling argument why you are the best candidate for the position, using stories from your past experiences to illustrate and support your argument.  Always remember that this is an advocacy piece, and your objective is to sell yourself.  This is not the time to be humble!

Finally, the closing paragraph will usually deal with logistics.  State what you are including (or attaching if it is an e-mail) – i.e. resume, transcript, writing sample, and/or references.  Do not waste valuable space gushing about how excited you would be to meet with them, or telling them you would be happy to provide additional information – these things are assumed.  Do use this paragraph to detail any plans you have to follow up with the employer, and to briefly thank them for their consideration.

Following this basic outline will help you craft a personalized cover letter for every job.  Remember that the best cover letters are the ones that bring the candidate’s resume to life.  In a competitive market, an employer is likely to discard generic cover letters and focus on applicants who took the time to craft a thoughtful letter geared to the employer’s organization.  Use your cover letter as an opportunity to tell the employer exactly why your background makes you a perfect fit for the position!

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