How to Write Effective Cover Letters from Scratch

 In Cover Letters

Your resume and cover letter serve two different purposes, and both are necessary to make a strong job application. While a resume informs your reader about your career history, key achievements, and skills, a cover letter persuades. It is the beginning of the conversation with your potential employer.

Both documents are important in getting the interview you want — and your resume should be updated and slightly revised for each target position. The cover letter, however, is where you provide evidence that you have read and understood a potential employer’s requirements.

I recommend writing short, well-structured cover letters from scratch. Write specifically to your potential employers, based on what they have requested in their job descriptions. Here is how:

1. Analyze each job description carefully.

  • Read the target job description with a highlighter or a pen.
  • Mark the key requirements. Note the word choice and sequence in which they appear.
  • On your resume, update the career summary and the list of core skills with the target position in mind.
  • Check if the accomplishments listed on your resume match the target position.

2. Address each of the top 3-4 target role requirements in the body of your cover letter.

    • Copy and paste or write down 3-4 main requirements from the target job description. (These requirements will shape the paragraph structure of your cover letter.)
    • Address the requirements
      • in separate paragraphs of equal length (4-6 lines)
      • in the order they appear in the job description.
  • Start each paragraph with the key requirement from the job description – highlighted in bold or capital letters.
  • Use specific and recent examples from your career history throughout the paragraphs.
  • When providing examples, quantify the improvements that you delivered.

3. Print out your cover letter and proofread it on paper.

  • Use this as a break from the familiar way your text looks on screen.
  • Check your paragraphs for widows (short lines, usually one word, at the end of the paragraph).
  • Tighten the lines by cutting wordiness where appropriate.
  • Read your letter aloud to yourself and check it for persuasive tone, coherence, and flow.


About the author:

Tanya Mykhaylychenko provides resume writing and career strategy services. Connect with her on LinkedIn for networking tips and ideas on career development.

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