The main purpose of a cover letter is to encourage an employer to read your resume.
Most cover letters involve three steps: explain why you’re writing; elaborate by referring to your qualifications; and close with a suggested plan of action.
Explain to the recipient why you’re writing. Are you replying 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?
Address your qualifications for the opportunity. Given what you know about the recipient’s needs, what can you offer that’s of interest? Make reference to your resume, but don’t just repeat what’s there. Elaborate and expand as needed.
Explain how you intend to follow up. Today more than ever, it’s the sender’s responsibility (yours) to follow up after sending your resume. In the last paragraph of the letter, say how and when you intend to do this.
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, written in response to a referral, 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.
Tip: Get help at an American Job Center
This section highlights some tools that can help you develop the best resumes and cover letters for your search. Don’t forget that American Job Centers (or One-Stop Career Centers) can provide an array of resources and assistance, too. Along with career counselors, your local center might offer a free workshop or class on resume/cover letter writing, access to computer labs, or a resume writing guide, for example.
Find your closest American Job Center.