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Tips for Cover Letters

  • Send an Original, Targeted Letter for Each Position
  • Always Address Your Letter to a Named Individual
  • Grab Attention Immediately and Don’t Let Go
  • Be Brief
  • Avoid Cliches
  • Double Check for Typos and Grammatical Errors
  • Request That the Employer Take Action
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Things to avoid in your cover letter include alluding to anything negative (especially pertaining to your last position), discussing salary history, and resorting to rote responses like “possess excellent written and verbal communication skills.” Generic cover letters don’t stand out and stand little chance of impressing employers who have literally seen thousands of them. Many job applicants make the mistake of simply reiterating their resume in their cover letter. It’s okay to focus on aspects of your resume that are relevant to the specific position you are applying for, but don’t treat your cover letter as only an extension of your resume. It deserves more attention than that.

Here’s an example of a want ad and a cover letter response to it. The ad reads:

Local shipping company seeks professional with 3 years of training experience to conduct leadership and management training.
Please reply to Ms. Judith Wyatt.

Dear Ms. Wyatt:

With five years in corporate training and management for a major U.S. employer, I bring extensive experience and presentation skills to your trainer position. Highlights of my background include:

  • Conducted hundreds of workshops for managers and staff on management and leadership topics.
  • Created original training materials to address the learning needs of various groups.
  • Consistently received high evaluations from workshop participants.

I would like to discuss in greater detail the valuable contributions I would make to your shipping company. I can be reached at (310) 555-1289.

Your time and consideration is most appreciated.

This cover letter uses clear, concise language and the bullet points focus on the employer’s needs as described in the want ad. There is no wasted space or excess information to clutter its basic message.  

Also on the list of things to avoid are sounding desperate by writing things like “willing to do anything.” Stating that you are “willing to learn” can also reflect negatively on you if it reminds the hiring manager that there will be extensive training time and expenses involved if they select you. One of the biggest turn offs for hiring managers is when applicants fail to be specific and describe themselves and their career objectives in vague, generalized terms. Everything you write should be related to the position you are applying for, and this includes mentioning your hobbies and outside interests.

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