If you’re banking on the assumption that no one is going to read your cover letter, that it’s just going to get clipped behind your resume or discarded altogether, you’re wrong. Your cover letter is just as important as your resume. Considering the hours you spent getting every detail of your resume just right, your cover letter probably deserves a second look.

A cover letter should accomplish three objectives:
1. Give the recipient a reason to be interested in you.

2. Explain why you are interested in the job and the company.

3. Lay the groundwork for further contact.

This may seem like a lot to ask from one sheet of paper, but we’ll show you how it’s done. The basic outline:

Your name
Your mailing address
Your phone numbers
Your email

The date

Mr./Ms. A. Recipient
Title

Company name
Company address

Dear Mr./Ms. Recipient:

Introduce yourself. The lead sentence should state the position you are pursuing (you can describe what you are looking for in general terms if this is an unsolicited letter). Also mention how you heard of the position or the company.

Objective one: Highlight the most relevant skills and experience from your resume with more detail. Explain how these qualifications will enable you to do this job better than anyone else.

Objective two: A potential employer will be keyed up about you if he can sense your enthusiasm for the company. Explain why you are interested in the job, and convey your awareness of what the company does to show that you have done careful research already.

Objective three: Here’s where you set yourself up for an interview. Establish when you will contact the person next, or make yourself available to them. You could say, “I would like to learn more about working as a financial analyst at KeyCorp. You can reach me at [phone number and/or email]. I look forward to hearing from you soon.”

Sincerely,
[don’t forget to sign your name!]
Type your name here

A couple more pointers:

  • Some people might be tempted to use a form letter. Don’t. It’s okay to use a template as long as you tailor it to each position and each company. A generic letter is the shortest route to the trash can.
  • The second shortest route to the wastebasket is typos. We really shouldn’t have to tell you this, but your cover letter must be letter-perfect.
  • Avoid addressing your letter “To Whom it May Concern.” Go through the trouble of finding the name and title of the person who will receive your letter.
  • Don’t use words that you wouldn’t use in conversation. For example, “My resume is enclosed for your perusal” is better stated, “My resume is enclosed for your consideration.”
  • It’s easy to over-use the word “I” in a cover letter. If you are running into this problem, rearrange your sentences. For example, write “You can reach me…” instead of “I can be reached…”
  • Don’t forget to check with your school’s career centerĀ  too!

Now take a look at a complete sample.

Ampara Lopez
57 Houston Street, Apt. 5
New York, NY 10012
December 10, 1998

Ms. Amy McKenna
Recruiting Department
General Mills
P. O. Box 1113
Minneapolis, MN 55440
Dear Ms. McKenna:

I am writing to you in regard to a Marketing Assistant position at General Mills. I recently spoke with Ann Panagopolos, the Brand Manager in your Minneapolis office. She was very positive about employment opportunities at GM and felt that my background makes me a good candidate for your Marketing Assistant position.

I am currently a senior at New York University and will receive my bachelor’s degree in Marketing in June 1999. As you can see from the enclosed resume, I have an interest in marketing that dates back several years. During the summers of 1997 and 1998, I interned in the marketing departments at Tom’s of Maine and Procter & Gamble. As a research assistant in NYU’s Marketing department, I am performing spreadsheet analysis for a project on marketing strategies in third-world countries. The quantitative skills I am developing at this job will, I believe, give me an extra edge as a first-year Marketing Assistant.

Since studying your company’s groundbreaking discounting strategy in a Consumer Behavior class last spring, I have followed General Mills with interest. The firm’s ability to remain at the top of the competitive cereal market while maintaining a reputation for excellent employee relations is very impressive, and I am eager to bring my enthusiasm and ideas on board as a Marketing Assistant.

Thank you for your consideration. I will follow up with a phone call early next week to arrange a meeting with a General Mills representative.

Sincerely,

Ampara Lopez