You’ve done it.

You have written what must be the perfect resume and you’re ready to send it out into the world to potential employers, right?

Wrong. You’re almost there but not quite. That carefully created resume of yours lacks an equally carefully crafted cover letter. Never fear. Guidance is here.

If you are applying for a specific position and will be sending your resume to an individual in hopes of landing an interview for said position, you need a cover letter.

You need it because a cover letter is what introduces your sterling credentials to a potential employer. It is that segue that matches their needs with your qualifications. It is the valuable chance to use your real voice vice resume sentence fragments to peak the interest of the reader.

How to Write a Cover Letter in 5 Simple Steps

Step One: Outline your cover letter on the blank screen. It should include the following areas:

  • A heading with your name, address, telephone and email address
  • The date typed using a civilian format (July 1, 2010 rather than 1 Jul 10)
  • A salutation line using the correctly spelled name of a real person
  • Space for three to four paragraphs
  • Sincerely, accompanied by five blank lines and then your name repeated

Step Two: Populate your paragraphs with relevant information.

In paragraph one, explain how you learned about the job opening, citing a specific vacancy number if applicable and express your interest in it. If someone the reader knows fondly recommended you apply for the job, name drop here.

In paragraph two, show specifically how what you have to offer in terms of experience, skills and abilities matches what the employer is seeking. Don’t be shy about using the exact words found in the job vacancy announcement. In fact, comb through that announcement with a highlighter and note the important buzzwords. Boldly use them in your cover letter at this point. If you need to use a third paragraph here, go ahead and do so. Just make sure any information you include is relevant and worthy of input.

In paragraph three (or four if you used two paragraphs above), close the letter out proactively. Re-emphasize your interest in the position and your availability for an interview. Note that you will contact the employer by a certain date if you haven’t heard back from him first. Afterwards, make a note on your own personal calendar to follow up with that claim if necessary.

Step Three: Mind the details for a polished, professional appearance.

  • Maintain a one-inch margin on the top, bottom and sides of your document.
  • Use an easy-to-read font and size such as Times New Roman, 11 or 12 point.
  • Avoid abuse of your formatting palette. Too many instances of bolding, underlining and italicizing only detract from the content itself.
  • Keep your cover letter to one page only. Two or more pages are too many.
  • Do a spelling and grammar check using your computer and one using your own set of eyes.
  • Avoid the use of worn out clichés in your letter. Use your own voice. Let the employer get a glimpse of the real you.
  • Keep it original. Each time you apply for a different job, wordsmith it to match the opening just as you would your resume.

Step four: Set it aside for a few minutes. Get some fresh air. Take a walk. Move on to other job search activities. After a few minutes, go back to your cover letter and read it critically with a fresh set of eyes. Make any revisions you deem appropriate, save it and print it out if snail-mailing.

Step five: Now you can send it out into world, along with your perfectly crafted resume, with the confidence that it is ready to take wings and lead you to the next step in the process: the job interview.


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Janet Farley is the author of the Quick Military Transition Guide: Seven Steps to Landing a Civilian Job (Jist Inc, 2012). She writes the JobTalk column for the Stars and Stripes newspapers.