How to Write Effective Cover Letters from Scratch
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.
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