Cover Letters: A Step-by-Step Guide to Targeting and Purpose

Each paragraph of your cover letter needs to communicate specific ideas if it is going to effectively catch the eye of the recruiter. Here’s a straightforward guide to what those ideas are and how to pin them down so your introduction can promote your chances, not preclude them.

The previous article addressed resumes, giving a walkthrough on how to create a document with structure and clarity. This one will discuss the companion document — the cover letter. The two should work together, with the resume acting as a brochure for your personal abilities while the cover letter highlights and expands more conversationally on how those abilities can become strengths for the specific company you are applying to. Remember — you want to stress how you can benefit them as a pro-active potential employee, not just tell your personal history. The key is to have focus.

One Foot in Front of the Other

So, what’s the first step? Your cover letter will have three main sections:

Introduction
 ⇣
 Argument
 ⇣
 Conclusion

And to every section, a specific set of objectives:

Introduction
 ⇢ | How did you find the position?
 ⇢ | What do you want?
 ⇢ | How do you match their needs?
 ⇢ | What will you do achieve their goals?
Argument
 ⇢ | Display understanding of the company goals/culture
 ⇢ | Pinpoint a resume item that exemplifies these goals/culture
 ⇢ | Firmly conclude how your experience contributes to their needs
Conclusion
 ⇢ | Repeat what you want
 ⇢ | Give contact specifics
 ⇢ | Use a formal closing statement

Each of these objectives can be accomplished with no more than a sentence or two, keeping your paragraphs efficient and to the point. Note also that you may have 1–3 argument paragraphs depending upon how much you want to say. There is a balance to be found between detail and brevity, but as long as you have relevant points to make and your cover letter remains within one page, more is more. Don’t make the recruiter guess how you might be the one — tell them, demonstrating exactly how you can best fulfill their needs.

Cross Your t’s and Dot Your i’s

To do this, you will need to read up on what matters to the company. How can you explain the way you fill their needs if you don’t know what those needs are?

The first place to look is of course the ad you used to learn about the job opening. Pay attention to any key words or value statements. Follow up by visiting the organization’s website and reading the “About” page as well as seeking any recent news or significant achievements/awards. The image created by the website and the ideas communicated there represent the company culture — imagine yourself as part of this scheme and note the ways your strengths would best fit.

While you want to avoid flat out expository writing in your cover letter (no need to tell the company who they are — they know!), you do want to have a tone of being “in the know”.

• Don’t write a history of the company.

• Do refer to their history while explaining the way you match.

Every word you write is asking another moment of the recruiter’s limited time, so make each one count! The way to do that is by making intentional connections between yourself and the company, not merely discussing one or the other in isolation.

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Let’s develop a sample. First and foremost, as with the resume, is contact information. Write your address, email, and phone number followed by the date. Then include the contact information of the recipient below that. This is standard practice for a business letter.

The font is Adobe Caslon Pro, 12pt.

Notice that you want to write to a specific person at the target organization if at all possible. Addressing yourself to a specific person, either the recruiting agent or a prominent figure in the department to which you are applying (if the name of the recruiter cannot be found), gives you an image of preparation from the first line. It reflects that you know who you’re talking to and implies you know what you’re talking about.

If you cannot find the appropriate name through online research, call the company. Again, this kind of forward-thinking will demonstrate that you are serious about applying and are a proactive individual. Even if they cannot provide you with a name over the phone, you can gather first-hand information about the position (ask questions!) and about the nature of the company.

The next line of your cover letter will be the greeting.

Write the name of the recruiter, or if that is impossible, simply use “Dear Sir or Madam:” or “Dear Hiring Professionals:”.

Notice that the greeting is followed by a colon, not a comma. Also important is the title given to the addressee.

• If the person is a man, simply use Mr. ___.

• If the person is a married woman, Mrs. ___ is appropriate.

• If you do not know whether the individual is married or know they are not, use Ms. ___.

• If you cannot determine the gender of the person you are writing to, simply write their full name without a title.

• Additionally, if you happen to know a person of either gender has a doctorate degree, use Dr. ___ in preference to any of the above (more relevant to academic writing than business).

How D’ye Do and Shake Hands

Continuing on, the introduction begins two lines below the greeting. Write single-spaced and separate each paragraph by skipping a line but do not indent the first line of the paragraph. This is referred to as block format and is common for business writing.

Recall the objectives for the introduction:

Introduction
 ⇢ | How did you find the position?
 ⇢ | What do you want?
 ⇢ | How do you match their needs?
 ⇢ | What will you do achieve their goals?

Literally write one sentence answering each of these questions and you will be off to a firm start.

This is the part where your usage of English expression and grammar begins to provide an image of who you are as a candidate, so it is important that the writing be clean and professional. Need an extra set of eyes to check it over and clean up the details? The truth is, that’s always a good idea! Use Ediket to get a revision in less than an hour and enable yourself to have full confidence in the impression your documents are making.

Your Days of Not Having A Cover Letter Are Certainly Coming to a Middle

That’s right, it’s time for the body of the letter: the argument. Remember the outline?

Argument
 ⇢ | Display understanding of the company goals/culture
 ⇢ | Pinpoint a resume item that exemplifies these goals/culture
 ⇢ | Firmly conclude how your experience contributes to their needs

Once again, just address each of these points with a sentence or two.

You may notice I was a bit generous answering the last prompt (connecting experience to contribution), which is because the connection is the essential aspect of the argument — its the purpose of writing this section, so best make it strong. They say that skills can be taught while qualities cannot, so make it clear to the company that you share their values and can meet the expectations of their community.

Tie Those Loose Ends

The conclusion in writing usually re-states the main idea of the opening, and that is true here as well. You want to express again what you are after, but with new phrasing. This is also the time to thank the recruiter for their attention and state your intended actions following this letter.

Conclusion
 ⇢ | Repeat what you want
 ⇢ | Give contact specifics
 ⇢ | Use a formal closing statement

Just a sentence for each objective…

Writing directly that you will contact them (and saying when) contributes to the sense that you are proactive and serious about this position. Of course, at the same time, this impression will become distinctly negative if you forget to follow up by making that contact, so only write that you will contact them if you really intend to do so.

Also notice how the closing has been written: the letter ends with a salutation followed by a comma. This can be a range of options including Sincerely, Best Regards, Yours Respectfully, etc. Then, skip three lines (you may notice I only left two blank lines in the example because I was tight on space, but three is typical) and type your name.

After printing the letter, sign in the space above the typed version of your name to give the letter a literal personal touch as a sign of the care you put into completing your application. If you will be emailing this cover letter, look into creating a digital image of your signature that you can insert into the document instead of printing and signing it (you can find various apps for that purpose).

Lastly, be sure that you create a .pdf version of this document before sending it! ALWAYS send your application documents as .pdfs to ensure they will appear to the recipient the same way they did to you. You can create a .pdf by clicking File > “Save As…” and choosing .pdf as the format on the dialogue that comes up, as in this graphic:

When You Reach the End, Sharpen Your Pencil and Start Again

So you’ve written a focused, well-spoken cover letter! Excellent! Remember though, for best results each cover letter should be specifically written to the needs and culture of the organization to which you are applying. That means if you are applying to three places, you need three versions of each of your documents. However, it is often possible to re-use or adapt some parts of the letter, to save you writing time. Just make sure the names and connections you describe in the letter match the target company.

Don’t forget to check the article on application emails to fine-tune the actual message you use when you send your cover letter (along with your polished resume, as in the resume walkthrough) to that dream company!

Want the template document developed throughout this article? Check at the end of the page.


Did you find this helpful? Check us out at www.Ediket.com! Ediket is an online proofreading / copy editing platform that connects qualified English editors to people who need help with their writing. You write, we complete!

Ediket only costs $5 per page and takes around 30 minutes, so your writing can be perfect, even on a budget or with a deadline.


Here’s the template for you: Sample Cover Letter Download!

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