Getting Your First Job For Dummies
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A cover letter is the first impression that job seekers make, so be sure it's a good one! By following some helpful writing tips, avoiding common mistakes, and incorporating elements of a standout letter, you'll set your cover letter apart from the rest.

Tips for writing a standout cover letter

Your goal when writing a cover letter is to attract interest and get employers to read your resume. These five qualities define a standout cover letter ― one that lands your resume in the short stack of keepers and not the discard pile ― so incorporate them into your writing:

  • Address your letters to individuals. Use names. Make an intense effort to find the name, correct job title, and address of the human being who will receive your letter.
  • Introduce yourself by mentioning a mutual contact, previous telephone conversation or meeting, or by using a “hook” statement that sells your hottest, most relevant qualifications.

  • Inform the reader of the position you want near the top or in the “Regarding” space.
  • Write in vigorous, vibrant, and animated language that persuades rather than sedates. Use attention-nabbing openings to grab the reader by the eyeglasses and hang on tight.
  • Include your marketable skills and other benefits you bring to employers. Convince them that you have something they need and want.
  • Focus on the employer. As much as possible, match point-by-point what the employer wants; in effect, you want your letter to say, “You want, I offer.”

  • Specifically tell an employer how you can make money or save money for the company, while doing the job the employer wants done.

  • Be sure to include your accomplishments and achievements, and describe them with real numbers, percentages, or dollar amounts.

  • Include specific product, company, and industry knowledge — showing that you did your homework.

  • Avoid using acronyms, technical jargon, or military lingo.

  • End your cover letter using an action closing (say you’ll call) to position yourself for a positive follow-up. You lose face when you ask readers to call and they don’t. “I didn’t hear from you so, well . . . uh . . . ah . . . um.” Note: An action closing works in most circumstances, but not all. For example, you wouldn’t apply to become the White House chief of staff and tell the president you’ll call to set up an interview.

Cover letter mistakes to avoid

The people who read cover letters and resumes oppose goofy grammar, typos, unusual punctuation, and other careless offenses against accepted language methods. You get only one shot to make a first impression, so when you’re preparing your cover letter, be meticulous and avoid these common mistakes:

  • Typos and other flubs (such as failing to use capital letters when called for) can send your message straight to the Big Dead Letter Box, including the one in the cyber sky.

  • Writing the wrong tone and style of letter to the right person does you no good. Is your industry or career field casual and breezy or button-down and formal? It makes a difference.

  • Summarizing your resume wastes the readers’ time. Add sales sizzle to new information.

  • Canned cover letters — like generic resumes — risk being treated like junk mail.

  • Too many unsupported assertions and victory laps (“exceptional communications skills, outsold the world’s workforce”) rise to uncertain clouds like hot air balloons. Validate claims with specific facts and numbers.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Roberto Angulo cofounded AfterCollege, the largest online marketplace in the US, where college students and employers can connect. He collaborated with the Obama Administration on the launch of Summer Jobs+, which successfully created more summer opportunities for youth ages 16 to 24. He is also cofounder of US2020.org, a STEM mentorship program.

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