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Cover Letter Basics

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This career article by Nathan Newberger gives you some common sense advice and tips when writing cover letters.

The cover letter has one primary purpose: to generate interest in order to land an interview. With this in mind, writing an engaging cover letter is crucial.

9 cover letter writing tips will help ensure that your next cover letter attracts ample (positive) attention.

1. It's Expected.

In nearly all cases, a cover letter should accompany every resume that you send out. This is a basic part of business etiquette and failure to do so could make you appear clueless. As a general rule, unless specifically instructed to NOT send a cover letter, it is safe to assume that one is expected.

2. Using E-Mail.

It is perfectly acceptable to send your cover letter (and resume) electronically. When distributing these items via e-mail, make the cover letter the body of the message and add your resume as an attachment. The subject line should include your name and the position you desire. Send the message from a job search only email address that you check at least twice a day.

3. Be Unique.

A canned cover letter screams laziness. Do you really want this to be a prospective employer’s first impression of you? It is expected that you tailor each letter to the specific company. Tailoring can be as simple as describing what drew you to the company or mentioning how you enjoyed speaking with the company representatives at a job fair.

4. Avoid Careless Errors.

The people who make hiring decisions often have numerous applicants to consider in a minimal amount of time; they often must make quick decisions. A misspelled word or grammatical slip-up may be all it takes to end your chances of landing an interview. Take the time to proofread. Also, have your most meticulous friend or family member look over each cover letter.

5. Brevity Is A Virtue.

Ideally a cover letter should be around two-thirds of a page in length and composed of two to three paragraphs. Never send a cover letter over a page long. Sentences should be precise and crisp. Avoid flowery words and redundant phrases. Hiring managers are busy people. If your cover letter looks like it will take more than a minute to read, chances are it will be tossed on the reject pile.

6. Address It To A Person.

Whenever possible address your cover letter to a specific person at the company (preferably someone with hiring authority). If you cannot obtain a name, then consider addressing your letter to the department head of the area that you are interested in (e.g. Director of Marketing). Letters addressed to HR departments have a greater chance of getting lost in the paper shuffle.

7. Describe Your Qualifications.

Use the body of the letter to give a quick overview of your skills and proficiencies. Describe success you have had in the past using your talents. If possible, obtain a job description of the position you seek. Using this as a guide, focus on including your strengths that could benefit the employer and the job. Bullet points may be used in order to convey your points more concisely.

8. Remember The Details.

Cover letters, just like resumes, should be printed on quality paper. Generally this means a watermarked paper with 25% cotton content in white or ivory. Print each cover letter on a laser printer; copies even on good paper will not do. Sign each letter in pen (blue ink is preferable). There should be no smudges, stains or even correction fluid on your letter.

9. Don't Re-hash Your Resume.

Your cover letter should not replicate your resume. The cover letter is your chance to add information that does not generally fit into a standard resume, such as why you want to work for the company. Take advantage of this opportunity to distinguish yourself.


Next time you write a cover letter, remember these 9 tips to ensure that you have the basics in place. A well written cover letter will help you get noticed and stand out among the competition.

About The Author

Nathan Newberger is the job and career expert at Nathan has over 10 years of experience in staffing and human resources. He has worked both as a recruiter and career counselor. Mr. Newberger has been the Managing Editor at for the past 5 years and his articles have helped thousands of job seekers.

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