our everyday life

How a Cover Letter Should Look

by Wendy Lau

It's common to fill out job applications online these days, but the cover letter continues to be a critical part of your submission. A strong cover letter can help you build rapport with a prospective employer. To ensure employers read your cover letter and see you as a strong candidate, your letter should be formatted properly. Keep sentences and paragraphs short, and research the company and position so you can tailor your letter appropriately.

Address

Formal cover letters should include your address, the date and the prospective employer's contact name and address. This information will go at the top of the letter. If you are submitting a cover letter via email, you can skip these formalities and begin with the salutation.

Salutation

Whether you are submitting your cover letter via regular mail, email or uploading it as part of an online application, make sure it is addressed to a person whenever possible. You may need to do some additional research to find a name, including looking at the prospective employer’s website or searching on LinkedIn. As you start the letter, avoid using "To Whom It May Concern" or "Dear Sir or Madam." Address the contact directly with Mr. or Ms. followed by the last name.

First Paragraph

Start your cover letter by introducing yourself and saying why you are a good fit for the job. For instance, write, "I'm a recent graduate of XYZ College, where I studied biology. My college thesis was on the role of soda on weight gain in college students. I believe my educational background and research will be directly applicable to the work involved at 123 Company for the Research Associate position."

Second Paragraph

Provide additional details on your past experience and skills that are directly applicable to the job opening. For instance, you could write, "During my studies in college, I was also a teacher's assistant for my biology professor. I was also responsible for the preparation of labs for undergraduate lab courses, where I learned XYZ."

Final Paragraph

Complete your cover letter with a closing paragraph that reiterates your interest in the job and requests an interview. For instance, you could write, "I am excited to learn more about this position and hope to have the opportunity to further discuss my qualifications for the job." After your last paragraph, sign your full name.

Common Pitfalls

Effective cover letters are generally kept short. Aside from being too long-winded, watch for common mistakes such as addressing the cover letter to the wrong company, misspelling a name or not providing enough personalization. Your letter should not read like a "cookie cutter" letter that can be sent to any company. Be sure to carefully review your cover letter, and also have another person look it over before sending it. One minor typo can kill your chances of landing an interview.

About the Author

Wendy Lau entered the communication field in 2001. She works as a freelance writer and prior to that was a PR executive responsible for health care clients' written materials. Her writing experience include technical articles, corporate materials, online articles, blogs, byline articles, travel itineraries and business profile listings. She holds a Bachelor of Science in corporate communications from Ithaca College.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images