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Sell Yourself.

We're not talking about Amsterdam's Red Light District. We're talking about finding a job. Cover letters are your first sales pitch to potential employers. Remember that employers receive hundreds of resumes and cover letters from people that are applying for the job YOU want. Your goal is to stand out from the other candidates. A good cover letter introduces you to an employer and explains why you are one of the best candidates applying for a job with the organization. It should motivate the employer to read your resume and hopefully invite you to interview for a position you are seeking.

What does a cover letter do? Basically, it expands on your resume and lets you write about yourself in a more personal way. Cover letters don't have to be stiff and formal--avoid the "rubber stamp" letter. The voice behind the letter should be warm, friendly and genuine. Employers want to hire real people, not robots. Although your letter should reflect your personality, always keep your audience in mind. Catchy opening sentences are wonderful for creative jobs in communications and advertising, but Wall Street might not appreciate it. Before you send out your cover letter, show it to someone in the industry to get feedback.

Ten Basic Rules:

  • Type each letter or use a computerized cover letter service so each letter looks individually typed.
  • Use 8 1/2" x 11" bond paper that matches your resume.
  • Address each employer by name and title. Never send a "Dear Sir/Madam" letter-- it's too impersonal.
  • Send your letter to the highest-ranked official possible so that it will receive immediate attention.
  • Check for grammar and spelling errors. This letter is the first example of your writing skills and how you present yourself.
  • Keep your letter short (three to five paragraphs) to hold the reader's interest.
  • Start your letter with a strong, attention-grabbing sentence.
  • Mention past experience along with recent accomplishments.
  • Convince the company that they want you and need you. Propose a mutually beneficial association with that employer.
  • Have an aggressive closing paragraph and state a specific action, i.e., I will call you in ten days to set up an interview. P.S.: It is important to keep a record of all your correspondence and what stage each application is in.

Purpose And Strategies

  • Your cover letter is more than likely the first contact you will have with a potential employer. If it is well-written, your letter will lead the reader to your resume. If your letter is poorly written or produced, the employer may not even take time to review your resume and your application has a good chance of ending in the circular file.
  • When you prepare the cover letter put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager. If you were doing the hiring, what attributes would the ideal candidate for this job possess? You probably would prefer that the person has work experience similar to, or at least applicable to, the position he or she is applying for. You would want the ideal candidate to be ambitious and anxious to contribute his or her energy and skills to the success of your organization. The perfect candidate would demonstrated interest in, and knowledge of, your particular company or organization. In short, you would want to hire an energetic, dedicated and skilled candidate.
  • The cover letter affords the opportunity for you to present yourself as the perfect candidate. Imagine your cover letter as a marketing tool, much like a television commercial. Effective commercials catch your attention by highlighting only the most attractive features of a product.
  • Highlight your most attractive features as a potential employee. Remember, employers typically receive hundreds of applications for each job opening. No one is going to waste time reading through a long letter crammed with text. Be brief. You should avoid detailing your entire work history. The best way to distinguish yourself is to highlight one or two of your accomplishments or abilities that show you are an above-average candidate for the position. Stressing only a few unique attributes increases your chances of being remembered by the recruiter and getting to the interview stage, where you can elaborate on the rest of your accomplishments.
  • Taking time to research each employer promises to be much more effective than sending out hundreds of form letters. In effect, you are saying to employers, "This is where I want to work. I have done my research and I am confident in my decision."

More Cover Letter Tips

  • Never send out a resume without a cover letter.
  • Address your cover letter specifically to the person by name and title who will most likely be interviewing for the job you have in mind.
  • Call the employer's switchboard to ask for this information.
  • If you are answering a blind newspaper advertisement - one in which the employer is not specified - you can address your letter "To Whom It May Concern" or "Dear Hiring Manager."
  • The cover letter should be neat, contain no typos, misspellings or errors in grammar. Employers judge you on your ability to communicate and your ability to manage the presentation of information. A cover letter does both.
  • Use 8 1/2 x 11 paper allowing a border of at least one inch. This allows space for the reader to make notes.
  • Use the same quality paper as your resume. Matching envelope as well.
  • Use a clear type face large enough to allow easy reading. Avoid script and other exotic typefaces.
  • Individualize your cover letter. Each cover letter you write will have a somewhat different slant, depending on what skills are important to the needs of the particular employer.
  • Whenever possible, do some research on the organization or company before you write your cover letter.
  • Read annual reports or product brochures or by contacting people in the organization.
  • Keep it to three or four paragraphs and no longer than one page.
  • Always close your cover letter with a request for an interview.
  • Suggest a specific time or reason, such as: "I will be in your area next week and would appreciate the opportunity for an interview on Tuesday or Wednesday."
  • Be assertive.
  • Make a record and keep a copy of each letter and resume you send.


  • "Mention projects under development, recent awards, or favorable comments recently published about the company. You can find such information in the business press, including the business section of local newspapers and the many magazines that are devoted to particular industries." - Neale Baxter, from Occupational Outlook Quarterly
  • " need to make it easy for the employer to buy. You need to clearly state when you will be available to talk to the employer. Be specific: give telephone numbers where you can be reached both at work and off work. You could have a tremendous background and see yourself very well, but if the employer can't reach you, everything could be lost." - Lola M. Coxford, from Resume Writing Made Easy for High-Tech
  • "No cover letter should carry the salutation, 'To whom it may concern.' It will concern no one if you don't personalize it. The surest way to get the information is to find the name in trade journals or in The Standard & Poor's Register, The Dun & Bradstreet Directory, or other directories. Failing all that, call the company and ask for the name of the appropriate person." - Kenneth and Sheryl Dawson, Job Search, The Total System
  • "Because you can use your cover letter to highlight certain aspects of your resume, the same resume can be used to pursue different job opportunities. The beauty of the cover letter is that you can gear it to each particular company that is the recipient of your resume by stressing your most important qualification." - Adele Lewis, from The Best Resumes for Scientists and Engineers
  • "If there is a catch-22 situation in job hunting, it involves the cover letter. Even in situations where it is not requested, you should attach a cover letter to your resume. However, a review of the cover letter is one of the most common methods by which candidates are eliminated from the process. The cover letter is rarely anything but a liability, but you must include it because its absence is worse." - Jeff B. Speck, from Hot Tips, Sneaky Tricks & Last Ditch Tactics
  • "Poor grammar, bad punctation, and misspelled words suggest that the applicant is either poorly educated or simply doesn't care about the impression created... The chances are unusually high that the employer is going to forgo reading the accompanying resume and quickly move on to the next job applicant." - Richard H. Beatty, from The Perfect Cover Letter

Generic Guidelines/Format

Your Address
Your Phone


Contact Person's Name

Dr. Mr./Ms.__________________________

Paragraph 1

State the position you are applying for and how you heard about the opening. Immediately explain why your background makes you the best candidate for the position you are applying for. Keep the first paragraph short and hard-hitting.

Paragraph 2

Detail what you could do to contribute to this company, organization or school system. Show how your qualifications will benefit the employer. Point out your unique background and how your experiences make you a qualified candidate for the position. Remember to keep this letter short; few employers will read a cover letter over one page.

Paragraph 3

Describe your interest in the company, organization or school system. Subtly emphasize your knowledge about the employer (from the results of your research) and your familiarity with the industry as a whole. You should present yourself as eager to work for this employer.

Paragraph 4

In the closing paragraph, you should specifically request an interview. Include your phone number and the hours you can be reached. Alternatively, you might prefer to mention that you will follow up with a phone call (to arrange an interview at a mutually convenient time within several days).


Your full name (typed)

Sample 1

1111 School Street
Stonehill, MA 02357
(508) 565-0000

January 1, 2000

Ms. Snapple Lady, Director of College Recruiting
Snapple Industries
P.O. Box 123456
Boston, MA 00000

Dear Ms. Snapple:

I am writing to express my interest in the marketing position you recently advertised with the Career Services Office at Stonehill College. I will be graduating from Stonehill College this May with a degree in Management Science and I am very interested in beginning a career in sales and marketing with Snapple Industries.

You will note from the enclosed resume that many of my extracurricular and work experiences involved the organization, promotion and publicizing of events. I have had direct sales experience soliciting potential customers for We Three Caterers and have been successful in managing employees in various capacities. Perhaps the most challenging and rewarding experience I have had was working with Congressman Kool and the organizing committee of the Stonehill College Literary Festival. I am confident that I have the sales and managerial skills required to be a contributing member of the Snapple organization.

A letter and resume can tell you only so much about my motivations and qualifications. I would welcome the opportunity to discuss my background with you in person. I will call you at the end of next week to discuss whether such a meeting would be possible and to confirm appropriate next steps.

Thank you for your consideration.

Mary Neidajob

Sample 2

253 Brompton Road
Brockton, MA 000000
(508) 588-0000

January 1, 2000

Mr. Richard Smith
Manager of Personnel
Adams Products, Incorporated
22 West Blackstone
Boston, MA 000000

Dear Mr. Smith:

In response to your recent advertisement in the Boston Sunday Globe, I would like to apply for the position of Personnel Assistant.

I recently read with interest an article about Adams Products, Incorporated, in the Journal of Industrial Relations. Your research in the area of employee maximization through quality of life considerations is an exciting development and I would like to begin my career in labor relations with your company.

My qualifications are based upon a unique combination of education, skills, and work experience. While completing my major in Management at Stonehill College, I studied topics including strategic management, cost accounting and economic theory. This was combined with twelve hours of psychology which included coursework in motivation theory and workplace ecology. These courses gave me an understanding of the concerns facing the personnel specialist. This knowledge is complemented by practical experience of employer-employee relations gained while working first as a clerk and then as an evening manager in a retail store.

My resume is enclosed for your further consideration. I am available for an interview at your convenience, and I look forward to discussing with you the contribution I can make to Adams Products in the position of personnel assistant. Thank you for your consideration.

Will U. Paimee

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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