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Cover Letter – Basics

The cover letter, like the resume, is a business document and must reflect this. The following is a basic guide to writing a cover letter.

Word Processor
Always use a work processor and format like a standard business document.

Personalized Stationery
Consider using personalized stationery as this makes a good impression.

Name and Address of Sender
Include a return address if it's not already printed on your stationery. The return address should be printed on the upper right hand side and aligned with the rest of the text. You should also include your name and telephone number here, which is not usual for a business document. However, this is an exception to that rule.

You can also include the date here or above the address section of the letter.

Name and Address of Recipient
The name and address of the recipient should also be included with the recipient's title, if known. This goes on the top left hand side of the letter.

How to address the recipient is easier than most people think. Most people find it difficult to make a decision on how to address the recipient, but there are some simple rules that can help. Generally people want to know whether they should use a first name or a surname. You can use a first name if you have personally met or have had a telephone conversation with the recipient. Otherwise it is safer to use their surname. Precede the name with a Mr or Mrs and the name must be followed by a colon. If the person has a title such as doctor then use it. If you do not know the person's name you can simply put address it "To Whom It May Concern," but it is a good idea to do some research to try to find out the person's name. You could call the company and quiz the telephone receptionist or you could try to actually speak to someone in the department in which you are applying for the position.

At the end of the cover letter you can simply write "Sincerely" or "Cordially" or even "Yours Truly".

Opening Paragraph
What is most important in the cover letter is obviously what you say and how you say it.

In the opening paragraph you need to communicate to the reader the reason the reader should continue reading.

It is in this first paragraph that you should include a legitimate person's name that connects you to the reader. This will get the reader's attention and compel him to read on. This person may be someone who knows you well or not so well, but it is important to get their permission to use their name prior to including it in a cover letter.

You may have simply met someone at a gathering or party who knows the hiring manager of the company and recommended you send on your resume. If this happened, say so in the first few lines. If you have any knowledge of the company -- especially little-known information -- this is also the section to highlight this and generate interest.

If this is an electronic cover letter keep it succinct and attach the cover letter to the email with your resume.

Body of the Letter
The next paragraph is the meat of the cover letter and needs to fulfill the need for the cover letter. What are the one or two points you need the cover letter to convey?

This can be to..

            - fill in the gaps in the employment history on your resume

            - let the reader know what your are seeking in terms of employment and why the position you are writing about interests you

            - bridge your lack of experience with the position you are seeking

            - explain what you are currently doing, whether you are employed or on contract work

            - point out what you can bring to the job

A cover letter should never focus on what you want or what interest you; it needs to focus on what you can bring to the table and contribute to the company.

Salary Information
In generally, don't include salary requirements in a cover letter although there are exceptions. If a "want ad" requests salary history and requirements when you apply for the positions, then you will need to include these in the cover letter.

The other exception is if you are applying for a position that you are overqualified for and are willing to accept a lower salary than is normal for someone of your qualifications and background. In this case it may be worth mentioning in the cover letter the salary range you are willing to accept so as to deflect any concern that you may be overpriced for the job.

Examples of cover letters:

Cover Letter Sample 1

Cover Letter Sample Informal

Cover Letter Sample Semi-Formal

Cover Letter Sample Formal

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