How to create an effective cover letter and résumé

First paragraph of a cover letter

The first paragraph is the most important one in your cover letter. So you must ensure that your first paragraph makes an excellent impression on your potential employer. Remember: You have just one chance.

 

IN THE FIRST PARAGRAPH … mention the exact position you want, as well as where and when you saw it. In the following examples, the italicized words are vague:

I am inquiring about the position I saw on Bethesda Memorial Center’s website.

I’m applying for the open position in your Finance Department.

I am interested in obtaining a position in your company.

 

OTHER DON'TS

Don't sound like you found the ad for the position by accident (note the poor word selection in italics):

I was searching the Internet and stumbled across your opening for an accountant.



Concluding paragraph of a cover letter

The closing paragraph of your cover letter is crucial. It's the last chance you have to impress the human-resources person reading it before he or she flips the page to review your résumé. (And if you don't make a good impression with your cover letter, the person might not flip the page ...)

 

Put yourself in the HR person's shoes. Which of the closing paragraphs below would you like most? (These were taken from actual cover letters, though I edited them for brevity and clarity.)

 

Remember the following nouns when you write your cover letter: skills, drive/motivation, experience, education, accomplishments, achievements. Use two or three of them in your closing sentence, as the writer of No. 2 below did.

Weak: I would greatly appreciate the opportunity to meet with you to discuss my qualifications. Please see my contact information.

Much better: I look forward to meeting with you to discuss how my education, skills and motivation will benefit ABC Accounting. Please call me at (555) 555-5555 or e-mail jdvivian@nowemployed.com.

 

Avoid sounding like you care only about yourself:

Weak: I look forward to discussing with you how working for ABC Accounting will help me prosper and improve my skills.

Much better: I look forward to discussing with you how my education, skills and motivation will benefit ABC Accounting.

 

Weak: I’m interested in working for your company because I can gain experience.

Much better: My education has provided me with the accounting skills I need to benefit your firm and its clients.

 

One final word: Sign your cover letter (or, if you're submitting it online, type your name)!



Remember these three numbers: 1O (yes, that looks like just one number, so keep reading)

  • “1” is the number of chances you have to make a good first impression. (Remember: Your cover letter and résumé are your personal marketing materials)
  • “O” represents the trash can, where your cover letter and résumé will go if they don’t impress the first person who reviews them
  • “1O” is the number of seconds that the first person who reviews your cover letter and résumé will spend looking at them the first time

Hard fact: The person who reviews your cover letter and résumé knows you only by the two sheets of paper that he or she is holding. So you must make a great first impression!


Cover letter/résumé “dos”

  • Use common sense: For example, if you spill something on your personal marketing materials, re-print them; don't discuss what you want the company to do  describe what you can do for the company
  • Use proper grammar: Terms such as “awesome,” “stunning,” “man up” and other meaningless verbiage portray you as someone with little vocabulary — and intellect
  • Stress your accomplishments, not merely your education and on-the-job experience
  • Keep it simple: easy-to-read, size 12 font; black ink; high-quality white paper
  • Proofread for typographical errors; ensure that phone number and e-mail address are correct (and professional; e.g., no “Bootylicious@unemployed.com”)
  • When sending your cover letter/résumé package, follow the directions for submitting it
  • The cover letter is the first page; the résumé is the second; paper-clip them together
  • In short: Be professional

Cover letter/résumé “don’ts”

  • Don’t forget to remove offensive social-networking postings
  • Don’t brag about yourself: Promoting yourself is one thing; after all, you have many qualities that will benefit an employer, and you must stress those. (However, bragging about yourself is another issue entirely; you’ll come across as cocky and, most likely, alienate a potential employer)