By Eileen Ramos
The first thing you should know about cover letters is to never address the letter as “To Whom This May Concern.” You should always try to search for the name of the person who will interview you. If you know that your interviewer is the vice president of the company, dig into the company website or LinkedIn and try to find out his (or her!) name. It’s slim that you will discover it but on the off chance you do, you’ve already got an edge. But be careful! You don’t want to fall into the trap of the misnomer. If you do find out their name be sure to use the correct honorific “Mr./ Ms./Mrs. Smith.” But again, be careful—there are many unisex names and names without obvious gender markers. When in doubt, leave it out. Also avoid, “Sir/ Madam” like the plague. And if all else fails, use “Dear Hiring Manager” as it is the catchall for cover letters.
The first paragraph of your cover letter should exude confidence. A little boasting is good, so don’t listen to society’s urgings to be demure and humble. This is where you explain what you’re capable of doing. Summarize your years of experience and how the value and expertise that you bring are just the right fit for the position in which you are interested. Use direct, positive and declaratory language in the beginning with something like “It’s with great interest that I write to apply for Title position with Company.”
The middle section can be done in three ways: required skill set, storytelling, and career background overview:
- In required skill set, you pull out three to seven necessary skills from the job listing and bullet point each one of them, displaying how in your experience you demonstrated these actions.
- The second way is storytelling. What is one skill from the required set that you have done that tells a great story? What made you standout and makes a great anecdote? Pull it out, elaborate, and impress the people who will read your letter.
- The career background overview is just that, summarizing your career experience and how it relates to the requirements.
If they ask you for your salary requirement, consider using salary.com and career bliss to find out the average salary in your area. You may use the closing of your cover letter to say something like: “As per request, my salary requirement for this position, based upon my experience, credentials, and the position description is $# – $#, not including benefits.” Please be careful on this slippery slope. Don’t sell yourself short but don’t go overboard with the number. When in doubt, again, leave it out. It’s perfectly acceptable to say that you desire a competitive salary and are amenable to negotiations. This way you don’t price yourself out of the running. Just remember that the first interview is not the time to discuss compensation—leave that for when they offer you the job.
Also, don’t forget to mention something interesting about the company to prove that you have done your homework. If they have a reputation as a leader in their field and have recently won a distinguished award, perhaps mention that as one of the reason you want to work for them. Showing you have done your research on the company is a great way to reveal how willing you are to be employed there.
Reiterate your interest in the position and why you are a great fit for it. Then ask for what you want: let them know that you look forward to hearing from them to arrange an interview.
Also, save space to include endorsements and excerpts from letters of recommendation from your LinkedIn profile from supervisors, colleagues, and former supervisees. To give your cover letter classy sophistication, use the exact same letterhead on your cover letter as your resume—now you have a professional submission package.
Those are the basics! If you need more specific help with your career documents, feel free to contact us.
Eileen Ramos is an enthusiastic introvert who has a fervor for words. She loves collecting them and seeing how they fit in, and expand, her world. She’s a writer by day, sleeper by night (well, sort of) and she can’t wait to see what title she earns next. For more information or to link with Eileen, check out her LinkedIn profile.