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Write effective cover letters

Craft a targeted cover letter using these steps. 

The main purpose of a cover letter is to interest the employer in reading your resume. This diagram shows the desired sequence from cover letter to interview.

Read cover letter Read resume Call for interview

Composing your cover letter

Most cover letters involve three steps: explain why you’re writing, refer to your qualifications, and close with a suggested plan of action.

  1. Explain to the recipient why you’re writing. Are you replying in response to an ad? Were you referred to the recipient? Did you read some news about the recipient or the company that suggested they might be hiring? What’s the situation?
  2. Describe how your qualifications match the opportunity. Related to what you know about the employer's needs, what can you offer? Make reference to your resume, but don’t just repeat what’s there. Elaborate and expand as needed.
  3. Explain how you intend to follow up. It’s the sender’s responsibility (yours) to follow up after sending a resume. In the last paragraph of the letter, say how and when you intend to contact them.

As a general rule, only one paragraph would be required for steps 1 and 3, while step 2 might involve two or more paragraphs. The letter itself should not exceed one page. This sample cover letter uses four paragraphs.

Here’s a slightly shorter version of the same letter in e-mail format. An e-mail cover letter must do the same job as the regular cover letter. However, since it’s likely to be read online, it’s important to be brief.

To get ideas for your cover letter, draw on the same strategies and research you did for your resume. The bottom line: Communicate what you have to offer that can benefit the reader.