How to Write a Cover Letter

An old saying goes that "you only have the opportunity to make one first impression, so make it a good one." The saying relates to the fact that a person will normally form an opinion of you within the first few seconds of a meeting. If that initial opinion is negative, that judgment will cloud the way they think about you and interact with you in the future, even if the initial opinion was based on an error. When it comes to the job search process, the "first impression" that you make with potential employers more often than not has to do with the cover letter you choose to use with your resume. If you send a high quality cover letter, for example, you will give off the immediate impression that you know what you're doing. If you include a low quality cover letter to your document, however, the person who you're trying to make contact with may not look at the resume it's attached to at all.

The first thing you need to do when writing a cover letter involves figuring out exactly which type you need to create. You will need to choose from one of three different types of cover letters depending on the type of position you're applying for. If you're responding to a known job opening (like one that you discovered on a job board, for example), you'll want to use a type of cover letter known as an application letter. This letter indicates exactly which position you're applying for, among other pieces of information.

If you're trying to inquire about possible job openings within a company but aren't responding to any one listing in particular, you'll want to use what is called a prospecting letter. This indicates the types of skills that you have, as well as the types of positions you are interested in.

If you're trying to request information about your job search in general or are asking for assistance about finding available positions, you'll want to write a type of cover letter known as a networking letter. These types of letters give a quick impression about the types of jobs you feel you'd be good for, why you're applying to the company and specifically the type of information you're asking for. You would never want to go into too much detail about your employment or educational history, however, as the resume should do the majority of that type of work.

When writing any type of cover letter, you should always go to great lengths to make it feel as personable as possible. If you're writing one cover letter that you will attach to 100 different resumes for 100 different companies, you'll want to find some way to make each one of those letters unique. Address the person you're sending the letter and resume to by name, for example. You could also try including specific information about the company in question, like what attracted you to their job openings in the first place. If you write one letter that never changes, you're writing an impersonal form letter. These can be off putting and can make it seem like you didn't want to put the time in to find out more information about the company you're applying to.

You're also going to want to pay close attention to the format of the cover letter you choose to use. You always want to make sure that you're including information relevant to your job search, but you never want to cram too much information on the page. Try to leave as little overlap between the information contained in the cover letter and the information on your actual resume as possible. You'll also want to make good use of "white space," or empty space, wherever you can. Your cover letter shouldn't look like a page that you ripped out of a textbook when you're finished. Instead, there should be shorter paragraphs that always get right to the point that are surrounded by as much blank space as possible. If your cover letter looks like it has too much text on it, it will likely feel intimidating to the person reading it. Remember that these people read dozens (and sometimes even hundreds) of cover letters a day. If they feel burdened by the amount of text on your cover letter, they will likely put it down and never pick it back up again.

Once you've finished a first draft of your cover letter, you'll also want to go online and look at all examples of cover letters that you can find. Doing so will be a great way to make sure you've gotten the format down and that you're including the right types of information. You can also take inspiration from these letter examples, which can sometimes have elements that you didn't even think to include in your first draft.