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Cover Letters: How to Make a Great First Impression on Potential Employers

Closeup of recruiter reading a cover letter from a job candidate.
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Dear Sir or Madam:
My name is Jane Doe, and I am writing to apply to be your executive assistant. I have attached my resume.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Jane Doe

It appears Jane has written a cover letter. …But, perhaps she should reconsider her approach.

Employers today are looking for vibrant cover letters filled with active words and documentation of results. Cover letters should go beyond the resume and leave hiring committee members with the desire to learn more about you. Since you have just one chance to make that great first impression, you want to make sure your words are powerful yet succinct.

It’s a tall order, but we’ve got some tips on how to write a cover letter that stands out.

The Basics

  1. Be sure to create an outline before crafting your letter. Putting your initial thoughts on paper will help you to stay on message.
  2. If you will be mailing your letter or including it as an electronic attachment, write it as a standard business letter with your name, address and contact information at the top. It should be formatted to match the information on your resume, using the same font and type size. Add the date, then write the recipient’s name and address. (If you will be pasting your cover letter into an email, these steps are not necessary.)
  3. Use a standard greeting such as “Dear.” In your opening paragraph, reflect your interest and enthusiasm in the job and/or the company.
  4. Give an overview of your background as it pertains to the position. Remember that the person to whom you are writing receives many applications, and no hiring manager will have the time—or desire—to read your life story. Keep it short and hit the most important points. Don’t restate your resume by listing where you’ve worked. Instead, briefly tell the hiring manager about the skills and accomplishments you’d bring to the job. Quantify your achievements where possible.
  5. Conclude with a short paragraph about why you’re the one for the job.
  6. Sign your letter with a standard closing, such as “Sincerely.”

Beyond the Basics

The above sounds easy enough. But if the process is that simple, then why do we all dread writing cover letters?

Frankly, it’s tough to know how to best sell yourself. Here are a few suggestions for honing your sell:

  1. Tailor the cover letter for the job. A cover letter isn’t one size fits all. Hiring managers want to see you have taken the time to customize your letter. For starters, it will show a genuine interest in the job and reflect well on you.Don’t use the outdated “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern” to start your letter. Do your best to find the specific name of the department manager or hiring manager by checking the job listing, the company’s website or LinkedIn, doing a Google search, or even calling the company. If all of your efforts fail to find the proper addressee, tailor your greeting the best you can, such as “To the Executive Assistant Hiring Committee.”
  2. Use a catchy opening paragraph. Go beyond your resume; the hiring manager easily can see your name and that you have spent two years as an executive assistant. Give the applicant screener something to remember.“When I was little, I was the only kid I knew who asked for a date book for her seventh birthday. I scheduled play dates long before people actually did that and made sure my dad kept a calendar of his business appointments. When I got my first computer, I started putting it all on a spreadsheet. It’s those organizational abilities honed at a young age that have made me a skilled executive assistant – skills I could bring to ABC Company.”
  3. Make the body of your cover letter succinct but efficient. Don’t recount your education or your job history; that’s why the resume is included. Instead, let the person hiring for the job learn more about your achievements and how they could transfer to a new position.Let’s say that the executive assistant found a new company from which to purchase office supplies and hired a new car service to shuttle visiting corporate leaders that saved her department significant amounts of money. A line such as this would be appropriate:“By my review of spending throughout my current department and subsequent cost-saving changes, the department reduced costs by 10 percent, a significant savings that allowed for more in-house training for employees.”
    Aside from measurables, hiring managers also want to see your work ethic or enthusiasm shine through in a cover letter. Show your passion for your career.
  4. Include keywords. Some cover letters and resumes are screened by software instead of a human, and the hiring manager might never see your application packet, even if you’re overly qualified. To capitalize on this, be sure to mention the job you’re applying for and also include keywords that could rank you higher in the screening, where appropriate. To showcase your skills, experts recommend strong words like analyzed, quantified, programmed, designed and collaborated. To highlight your ability to get results, use: increased, reduced, redesigned, upgraded or generated. And for adjectives to describe yourself consider words such as inventive, tenacious or imaginative.

Keywords aside, choose your words carefully. Hiring managers like to see action verbs and adjectives, such as “I launched a project that generated 100 clients in three months.”

  1. Emphasize the positive. Don’t point out that you might not have all the qualifications in the job listing. Instead, highlight the ones you do have.
  2. Make the closing effective. Use the final lines to show your enthusiasm for the job instead of the outdated, “I look forward to an interview at your earliest convenience.” Try instead, “ABC Company is the leader in the software industry, and I happily would relocate to San Francisco for this position.”
  3. Watch the length. A cover letter should be short, typically 250 to 325 words, and around four paragraphs.

Don’t forget when you’re finished to run your cover letter through spell check or online editing programs to check for spelling and grammar errors. Then, print it and proofread it—and give it to friends and family members to do the same. Even one small error can sink your chances for landing that golden interview.

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CUNA 2023 diamond award trophy icon

CUNA 2023 Diamond Award Winner

Financial Education

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