How to Write an Effective Cover Letter

A cover letter is a resume’s best friend. While many believe that a cover letter simply introduces a resume, it does much more. Cover letters allow you to talk about important experiences and skills and relate them to specific job requirements for the position.

A well-written cover letter is also the perfect sample of your written communication skills, but be sure to be clear and concise when writing your letter. Hiring Managers have stacks of resumes to filter through and typically glance through a cover letter. Here’s how to make your’s really stand out:

1.     Make sure to properly format it like a letter!

We’ve all written letters in our lifetimes but in the age of emails and texts, your formal letter writing skills might be a bit rusty. Click here ( for a refresher on how to write a letter.

2.     Address it to the person who can hire you.
If you can find out (through networking and researching) exactly who is making the hiring decision, address the letter to that person. Be sure the name is spelled correctly and the title is correct. A touch of formality is good too: address the person as “Mr.,” “Ms.,” “Mrs.,” “Miss,” “Dr.,” or “Professor.” If you cannot find the specific person, be sure to include an appropriate greeting such as “Dear Hiring Manager.”

3.     Show that you know something about the company and the industry. This is where your research comes in. Don’t go overboard–just make it clear that you didn’t pick this company out of the phone book. Visit the company’s website and find out about what they do to show them you are genuinely interested in becoming part of the team. 

4.     Write the body of your letter. It should include no more than three short paragraphs (remember – clear and concise is key). Follow these guidelines when writing the body of the letter:

    • Paragraph 1
      Tell the employer why you are writing to them in two or three sentences. State the position for which you are applying.  It is sometimes a good idea to mention how you became aware of the opening — a recruiter, an online job board, a mutual contact. Lastly, specify why you are interested in working for the employer.
    • Paragraph 2
      In the next paragraph, outline your qualifications and match them to the requirements of the position. To do this, use what you have researched about the employer’s background and history (this is where your preliminary research notes become very useful).
    • Paragraph 3
      Make this closing paragraph between two to four sentences. Direct the employer to your enclosed résumé and make sure you specify that you’re available for an interview. Finish off by thanking them for their time and consideration, and welcome them to get in touch with you to continue the conversation.

5.     Proofread, Proofread, Proofread
Make sure that your letter is free of spelling and grammatical errors.

Resume Writing Tips

A resume is a tool to get the employer’s attention. You need a well-written, up-to-date resume to market yourself effectively. An attention-getting resume is one that conveys your brand (learn more about personal branding here) — the unique combination of skills, achievements, and abilities that shows you are an outstanding candidate for the job.

What All resumes Should Have

Contact information: name, mailing address, phone and email address
Brief statement of your key experience and strengths. This is optional, but many career experts recommend it as a way to convey key information at a glance.
Work experience that is relevant to the job for which you are applying
Skills, areas of expertise and specific accomplishments
education, training and certifications
Awards, professional memberships and volunteer work — if relevant to the job

What Will Make Your Resume Stand Out From the Crowd

Use an Attention-Getting Design
Never underestimate the importance of a well-designed resume. The recruiter will immediately notice your resume and be inclined to read it. Don’t overcrowd the page. Be sure to leave plenty of white space.

Keep It Brief
Most resumes should not be longer than two pages.  Avoid large paragraphs and use short sentences or bullet points that provide small, digestible pieces of information. Remember, the purpose of your resume is to generate enough interest in you to have an employer contact you for an interview. Use the interview to provide a more detailed explanation of your accomplishments and get that job offer. So your resume doesn’t need to go into detail about every accomplishment.

Proofread…Then Proofread Again!
One typo can send your resume to the trash. Make sure to carefully proofread your resume various times before submitting it to a recruiter or prospective employer. Also, it’s a good idea to have someone else review your resume. Since you are so close to your situation, it can be difficult for you to hit all your high points and convey all your accomplishments. Have someone review your job search objective, your resume, and listings of positions that interest you. encourage them to ask questions. Their questions can help you to discover items you inadvertently left off your resume.

Use Titles or Headings That Match The Jobs You Want
With employers receiving hundreds of resumes you must make sure that your resume hooks an employer’s attention within a 5-second glance. A great way to do this is to use job titles and skill headings that relate to and match the jobs you want.

Quantify and Use Power or Action Words
Numbers, dollars, and percentages stand out in the body of a resume. Using numbers and quantifying creates vivid images in our minds when we read them, whereas general statements like the before examples are easy to skip over or forget. Typically the more specific you can be in describing your duties the better. Quantify your achievements, results, and outcomes and use action verbs. For example, “increased sales by 65%,” “decreased annual expenditures by $50,000,” “exceeded monthly quota.”

Tweak and Target Your resume to Match the employers Needs
Tailor your resume to the specific job you’re applying for. Don’t send the same resume to hundreds of employers. Read the job description closely, and use the keywords listed in these ads, and match them to the bullet points in your resume. To beat today’s heavy competition for jobs, it’s important that you identify and anticipate the full range of needs each employer faces and show how you can solve those needs.

Accent the Positive
And leave off negatives and irrelevant points. If you feel your date of graduation will subject you to age discrimination, leave the date off your resume. If you do some duties in your current job that don’t support your job search objective, leave them off your resume. Focus on the duties that do support your objective.

Lead with Your Strengths
Resumes are typically reviewed in 30 seconds, so take the time to determine which bullets most strongly support your job search objective and put strong points first where they are more apt to be read.

Always Include a Cover Letter
Another important part of your resume is the cover letter. A good cover letter is like an introduction about the candidate and helps the recruiters understand your personality, which is half the battle won.

Get Your Resume Out There
A wonderfully written resume does no good unless you put it out there.

Questions to Ask During an Interview

At the end of the formal interview the employer will ask if you have any questions. The following are examples of acceptable questions to ask.

Questions To Ask The Employer:

  1. What would you expect from me in this position?
  2. What does a typical day look like at?
  3. What are the next steps in the interview process?
  4. When are you going to make a hiring decision?
  5. What are the opportunities for advancement?
  6. What kind of training is provided or available?
  7. Is there a dress code?

Common Interview Questions…and How to Answer Them

  1. Tell me about yourself.
    This is often an ice-breaker question. Keep the answer job or skill related.
  2. What do you know about the type of work we do?
    This is your chance to tell what you know from the research you completed ahead of time.
  3. What is your weakness?
    Always make this a positive answer. For example, “My spelling is not always perfect, so I always use a spell checker.”
  4. What are your strengths?
    Describe your skills in a way that will show you as a desirable employee for the company.
  5. Why did you leave your last job?
    Answer with a positive statement. Try not to say: “I was fired,” “terminated,” “quit,” “had no babysitter,” or “couldn’t get along with coworkers or supervisor”. However, you can say: “new job,” “contract ended,” “seasonal,” “temporary,” “career change,” “returned to school,” to raise a family,” or “relocated.”
  6. Why have you been unemployed for such a long time?
    Tell the truth. Emphasize that you were looking for a good company where you can settle and make a contribution.
  7. Do you have references?
    Be sure to contact your references ahead of time and have their name, current address, and telephone numbers.

Tips for a Successful Interview

Research the company.
Do a little homework! Research the company and the position if possible, as well as the people you will meet in the interview. Google the company, visit their website and check out their social networking pages, if applicable. Learn as much as you can about the company’s mission, objectives, goals, and future plans. Be ready to support past career accomplishments with specific information targeted toward the companies needs.

Practice makes perfect.
Check out our Common Interview Questions and be prepared to answer them. Write down answers if it helps to make your presentation more concise. Try to keep your answers to the information your new employer will want to know.

Be on time.
There is no excuse for being late. Blaming it on traffic or anything else doesn’t matter (even if it’s true). Be sure to check the amount of time needed to get to the interview on time.

Make a good first impression.
You should go to the interview alone – no children or friends. Greet the interviewer with a smile and a firm handshake.

Cell phone off.
This seems like common sense, but double and triple check that your phone is on silent before entering the interview so there are no distractions.

Dress for success.
Make sure you go into a job interview having showered and wearing clean pressed clothes. Don’t wear any cologne or perfume on the day of the interview. What’s subtle smelling to you may be overwhelming to your interviewer.

Be prepared.
Even though your interviewer will most likely have a copy of your resume, be sure to bring along some extra copies just in case, as well as printed-out references and a notepad and pen should you want to jot down any notes during the interview. Being prepared shows you are serious about this job.

Be Positive.
In particular, avoid negative comments about past employers. Bad mouthing a previous boss in a job interview is a huge negative. They may have been the worst boss in the world but expressing that in a job interview is a huge mistake. Be upbeat, smile and answer questions positively.

Make good eye contact.
Maintain eye contact with your interviewer. Show you want the job with your interest. Staring at the floor, ceiling, or wall when speaking or listening makes you appear disinterested. Again, simple and obvious but happens way more then you’d think.

Be Adaptable and Relatable.
Listen and adapt. Be sensitive to the style of the interviewer. Pay attention to those details of dress, office furniture, and general decor which will afford helpful clues to assist you in tailoring your presentation. Try to relate your answers to the interviewer and his or her company. Focus on achievements relevant to the position. 

Ask Questions.
At the end of the job interview make sure you have some questions to ask. If the interviewer doesn’t offer you a chance, ask to ask. Again, it reinforces your strong interest in the job.

Say Thank You.
Thank the interviewer for his or her time and request a business card. Shake hands in closing. Two or three days after the interview send a thank you note addressed to the interviewers. Here are some basic tips for writing a Thank You note:


Thank You Notes

After your interview, be sure to write a thank you note to the employer or interviewer. This is very important because a thank you note gives you one more chance to remind the employer about the special skills that you can bring to the company.

It is a good idea to request the interviewer’s business card before leaving the interview. This will help when writing your thank you note to correctly spell the interviewer’s name and job title.

Tips for thank you notes:

Neatly hand write or type the note.

  1. Address the note to the interviewer or the lead interviewer.
  2. Keep it short. (No longer than one page.)
  3. First paragraph: Thank the employer for the interview. Also, mention that you are interested in the position.
  4. Second paragraph: Briefly state a few of your skills without repeating the information on your résumé word for word. Include any important information not mentioned at the interview.
  5. Third paragraph: Provide your contact information, telephone number with area code, and an e-mail address, if available.
  6. Sign the note with your first and last name.
  7. Proofread the note to check for spelling or grammar errors. Ask another person to proofread the note.
  8. Mail the note within two to three days after your interview.


Top Reasons Why People Don’t Get Hired:

  • Untidy personal appearance
  • Inability to express information clearly
  • Lack of genuine interest or enthusiasm
  • Unwillingness to start at the bottom
  • Negative attitude
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Incomplete or sloppy application
  • Being late for the interview

Social Media & Your Job Search

Did you tweet about being late for work? Letting a future employer know that you are tardy and fine with it is a bad idea.
Are there embarrassing pictures of you publicly posted on Facebook? Some employers might question your judgment and maturity.
Have a mediocre recommendation on LinkedIn? That’s not a great showcase of your talent.

Social media sites have undoubtedly changed employers’ hiring practices. People need to understand that you can find anything that’s been on the web. Nothing is private, and employers use that to their advantage. If they are willing to invest time and money hiring and training you, then they are going to invest a few minutes tracking you down on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Here are some tips on preparing your online profiles during your job search. In a tough economy, many employers don’t want to take chances. Don’t give them a reason to pass you by for someone seemingly safer.

1.     80% of Success is Showing Up.
Contribute to your social networks! Participate in Twitter chats on topics you’re interested in, post on Facebook about the industry you are looking to break into and join relevant LinkedIn groups. These are all great ways to make yourself more visible to recruiters—and increase your own knowledge. However, be mindful of what you are putting out into cyber space.

2.     Remember, There is No Privacy on the Internet.
You must realize that before you’re even called in for an interview, employers and recruiters are looking at you online. One quick Google search and they will have full access to you online. Check out your Facebook profile as an outsider by viewing your Facebook page without logging in (or just ask a friend who you trust to evaluate your profile for you), and make sure that your profile is clean. Take this opportunity to clean them up now, and utilize your privacy settings. You can set them so that only your friends can see specific content about you. Also, if you’re a Tweeter, and you Tweet about things that aren’t necessarily professional, be sure that your profile cannot be traced back to your real name.

3.     It Works Both Ways.
Just as employers will likely “snoop” on you, you should take a moment to research a potential employer’s online presence. In addition to visiting the company’s website, utilize LinkedIn to learn more about the company and find out if you have any connections in common. Use Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to find out what your interviewer’s interests are, what their professional history is, and anything that you might leverage to make yourself standout from your job searching competition. When you demonstrate to an employer  that you’ve gone the extra step to do research, he or she will be impressed by your initiative.

4.     Stand Out From the Crowd.
Social media profiles can be as important as your resume. So you know that employers are going to be looking at you online, and you have the opportunity to not only present a clean, professional online persona, but also stand out from your fellow job searchers. Build your profile to grab a recruiter or employer’s attention. Make it clear in your titles and headlines who you are, what you do and what you’d like to be doing in the future. Ask for recommendations on your LinkedIn profile from people who you have worked with in the past and who have a high opinion of you. It’s important that the people who recommend you also maintain professionalism. You can also follow thought-leaders in your field of expertise on Twitter and possibly engage with them in casual, yet professional ways. Finally, join LinkedIn groups where you will “virtually” meet valuable connections and make your own contributions to discussions.