Living in the digital age has made knowing how to write an impressive cover letter more important than ever. Your cover letter is your first impression. It does more than communicate your interest in a position, it provides your potential employer with a first glimpse at who you are as a candidate, and how seriously and professionally you are taking this opening at their company.

The trouble is that writing a cover letter isn’t a skill that many people have an abundance of practice with. Much like updating your resume, the longer you are employed, the less likely you are to have to worry about what should go into a cover letter. The task is even more complicated for those who are entering the workforce for the first time.

Before you get started with writing your cover letter, there are a few things that you ought to know:

  1. Your cover letter is different from the email that you send to a potential employer to submit your resume. Many times those emails are received by HR representatives who are tasked with screening the resumes and printing them for higher level managers. If you don’t attach a formal cover letter, there is a chance the person who needs to read it won’t see it. Keep the body of the email that you send short, polite, and to the point. Be professional and courteous without getting into everything you say in your cover letter.
  2. Your cover letter is your introduction; it isn’t a summation of your resume. Don’t use this platform as a narrative explanation of your resume, but instead as an opportunity to elaborate and draw their attention to aspects of your resume that make this an ideal position for you. Keep your cover letter positive and encouraging. Don’t use it to ask questions or make amends for issues with past employment.
  3. Formatting of your cover letter matters. Have your cover letter match your resume in font and style, but keep it professional and in line with what the employer is expecting. Follow basic rules regarding formatting a formal memo, and use appropriate, professional modes of address and signature.

While it is tempting to use a single cover letter for every position that you apply to, you ought to realize that potential employers will realize you are doing this. Using a singular base is a good idea, but customize your cover letter to each employer. Do a bit of research before applying and come up with a compelling reason as to why you want to work in this position, and why you would be a good fit for the company.

Finally, if you know people who work at the company, the cover letter is not the place to draw that connection. You can note in your original email who directed you to apply (especially if you were given a direct email from a friend or colleague), but your cover letter ought to focus exclusively on what you can bring to the position.

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