What Goes in My Cover Letter?

Yesterday, we talked about why you need a cover letter. Today, we’ll look at the contents of the letter itself.

Cover letters don’t necessarily need to be long or complicated.  Using a basic formula allows you to more easily tailor each letter for the recipient, and also ensures your letter is short enough that it will actually be read, even by busy recruiters and hiring managers receiving hundreds of submissions.  Here’s a sample of a very basic formula that works for most situations:

First Paragraph
The first paragraph of your cover letter should always say where you saw the ad or otherwise heard about the position, what position you’re applying for, and what you’re attaching.  This helps the recruiter put your resume in context as quickly as possible.

In response to your ad on MilwaukeeJobs.com for a Recruitment Director, I am attaching my resume for your consideration.

Second Paragraph
This is where you personalize your letter for the specific job you have in mind.  Resist the urge to send something canned and generic, because the most interesting candidate is the one who actually wants the job, and demonstrates that fact by putting in a little extra effort here.  Really think about why you want this particular job, and why your experience makes you the one they should call first.  This doesn’t have to be long, because you want to save something for the interview.  It just has to show them that you really did read the ad, that you understand what they’re looking for, and that you might be the one they need.

As you will see, I have extensive experience in HR management, particularly in recruitment.  In my last several positions, I’ve successfully re-engineered the recruitment function to better align it with the needs of the business.  I understand from last Friday’s Business Journal article that XYZ Corporation is struggling to fill many of its entry level positions, and your situation sounds similar to the one I encountered at ABC Inc.  While I was there, I was able to reduce our average time-to-fill from 89 days to 31 days.  We also reduced our cost-per-hire from $1,837 to $972.  I’m confident I can help XYZ Corporation achieve similar results.

Third Paragraph
This is where you briefly explain why you’re looking for a job, and address any special circumstances (gaps in your resume, plans to relocate to the area, etc.).

My position at ABC Inc. was eliminated when the company relocated to Mexico.  I took the last several months off to care for a family member who was ill, and I’m now looking for a full-time HR management position.

Fourth Paragraph
This is where you express interest in the position, and let them know how to reach you.  Be sure to include an email address as well as a phone number; the greater the volume of candidates, the more likely they’ll need to contact you via email rather than phone.  Playing phone tag with dozens of people at a time is no fun.

I’m very interested in learning more about this opportunity.  You can reach me at kerry@notarealemail.com, or at (414) 555-1212.

That’s really all you need.  You can do something longer and fancier if you want, but in my experience, there are a lot of hiring managers and recruiters out there who just don’t read long documents.  It’s dumb, but you may as well know it up front.  Short and to-the-point is usually your best bet for your cover letter.

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