Grabbing Attention with Your Cover Letter's Opening Line
How to Beat Writer's Block When Writing Cover Letters
How to Use Power Phrases in Cover Letters

Zooming In on Cover Letter Anatomy

In case you've forgotten or never learned the parts of a job letter, review these building blocks.

Contact information

Your address, telephone number, e-mail address, and URL (Internet World Wide Web address) appear first on the letter. You can place your address in the middle or on either side of the page. Just make sure that your Web address is on a line of its own.

You have a choice about where to place your name. You can either place it (preferably in larger letters) above your address, or you can type it below your signature. Don't put it in both places — it's a waste.

Computer-friendly cover letters place the telephone number, e-mail address, and Web address on separate lines below your residential address for better scanning. You can also separate two items on the same line.

Date line and inside address

Place the date two lines below your contact information and place the inside address two lines below the date. Aligned with the left side of the page, enter the name of the person to whom you're writing (with Mr. or Ms. designation), followed on the next line by the company name, followed on the next lines by the address. If you know the position the receiver of your letter holds, include that information on the same line as the receiver's name or on the following line.

On the right side of the page, aligned with the inside address information, you can include a line labeled RE: to highlight the reason for correspondence.

Salutation

Your salutation says, "Hello!" in the form of Dear Person-Who-Can-Hire-Me. It's like the eye contact that establishes a connection and begins the dialogue. Do your best to identify the person who will read your letter and address that person directly. Not only does your reader appreciate being addressed by name, but also this personal bit separates your letter from the ones written by people who didn't take the time to do a little research into the company.

If you can't uncover the name of the hiring manager, write Dear Employer or Good Morning. It's cheerful and feels more personal than Dear Sir or Madam or To Whom It May Concern. Remember to complete the salutation with a colon (:) to indicate more information to come.

Because no one enjoys reading mail addressed to a generic person, try to discover the name of your reader. It's courteous, it takes initiative, and it indicates genuine interest in the company and, most importantly, in the job.

Introduction

Your introduction should grab your reader's attention immediately. As the "head" of your letter, it appeals to the head of your reader, sparking interest that will compel your reader to keep reading. It subtly says, "Read Me!" and states the purpose of the letter.

All sorts of rules have been given for ways to start your cover letter. Some say, "Don't start with I." Others advise shock value and creativity, a risky approach for some. The most important rule is to engage the reader's interest. What does the reader need in an employee that you can draw attention to from the get-go?

Body

The body of your letter provides essential information that the employer should know about you — skills, achievements, and quantified statements about your past accomplishments. These skills may double as the interest-generating element of your letter as well. Unless your cover letter also serves as your resume, the body of your cover letter should be one to six paragraphs in length for eye-friendly appeal.

The body should include a brief background summary of your relevant experience. This is information that the reader can get from your resume, so don't spend too much time on it in your letter. But don't be tempted to leave it out. Without this key selling point, your reader may never get to your resume.

The information that you include in the body of your cover letter gives tangible evidence of your potential contribution to an employer. It provides your reader with facts to digest and satisfies hunger for a valuable employee. Make sure that these facts are tasty, enticing your reader to devour your resume and call you in for an interview.

Conclusion

The last leg of your letter aims to stimulate action on your behalf. It gets your reader's blood pumping and legs moving toward the telephone to call you before anyone else does.

Motivating your reader to action requires a sincere "thank you for your time and consideration" and a contact date. Always tell your reader when you will call (no more than one week in the future) to confirm receipt of your letter and resume and coordinate a time for an interview. Including this information ensures that you'll act; you promised. Your word is on the line. If you call, a potential employer certainly can't ignore you — someone at least will have to move to answer the telephone. And if the news is not good, at least you're not home waiting by the telephone for a call that never comes.

Closing, signature, and enclosure line

The closing section says, "Good-bye." It's the handshake before parting, sincere and warm with promise of meetings to come. Sincerely and Very truly yours are the most popular, but other choices include Best regards, Warm regards, and Sincerely yours. Don't forget to put a comma after your closing line.

Don't forget to sign off. If your name doesn't appear in your contact information, type your name below your signature (four lines below the closing) so that there will be no confusion about spelling.

If your penmanship runs to chicken-scratch, try to make your signature legible. Any employer prefers to be able to read what someone handwrites rather than have to interpret it.

After you've motivated your reader to action, the enclosure line provides a direction. Indicate everything else that you've sent with your cover letter, such as resumes or portfolios. This line directly follows your typed name or signature.

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