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Painless Cover Letter Writing


With emails and tweets, writing or reading an entire letter seems old fashioned and overwhelming now, but a well written cover letter could help you get your foot in the door when you wouldn't have otherwise.

1911 Minneapolis, Minn. - Rock Island, Ill. - Mississippi River flight letter, Digital ID 2005_6603_9_33_1, New York Public LibraryEven if you hate writing or think you are a horrible writer, you can still prepare an effective cover letter as long as you keep the following points in mind:

  • Keep it brief:  4-5 paragraphs at the most
  • Customize it for the job and company
  • Proofread it and have someone else proofread it

What goes into an effective cover letter?

The simple things are simultaneously the most frequently neglected and the most crucial to helping your letter stand out in a stack. 

A Name

First, all letters are addressed to someone.  To Whom it May Concern is not a person.  Nobody gets excited about opening a letter and being called To Whom it May Concern, Dear Sirs, or Human Resources Manager.  Getting a name is often difficult, especially when you're responding to ads.  Companies don't provide names because they don't want job seekers to call the hiring manager and pepper her with questions, but if you take the time to investigate a bit and get a name, you will stand out as someone who is thorough, professional, and considerate.  This will take some research on your part!

What You Have to Offer

This is where your self-knowledge and research on the company can shine through.  Ideally, you want to highlight a challenge the organization currently faces, and suggest a way that your expertise can help them meet that challenge.  Going back to my point about researching who to write your letter to, you will need to put some time and effort into figuring out what the company needs help with and how you can address their current needs.

Ask for a Meeting

Make your letter action-oriented!  Don't just end it with, "I hope to hear from you soon."  Provide a time line for when you plan to reach out to the employer again.  For example, you could write something like "I will call next Monday if I have not heard from you by then."  Also, always include a statement like, "I would appreciate a meeting with you to discuss this opportunity in greater detail."

Be Reachable

It's always a good idea to remind the employer of your contact information in the last paragraph.  Yes, if you formatted your cover letter well, it's in the header and any savvy manager should be able to scan back up the page and read it there.  However, you are the one who wants a job from them.  It's on you to make it as easy as possible for them to reach out, so take the extra minute and put it in that last paragraph as well.

If you still need inspiration for your cover letter, take a look some of NYPL's books on cover letter writing.

Joyce Lane Kennedy's Cover Letters for Dummies (eBook and print)

Lynn Williams' Readymade Job Search Letters (eBook)

Clifford and Lynn Eischens' Resumes, Cover Letters, Networking, and Interviewing

Wendy Enelow's Cover Letter Magic




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Any thoughts on how to bring

Any thoughts on how to bring up relocation in a cover letter? I am applying for jobs in a different state, with the hopes of moving there in a few months. Is this something I would talk about in a cover letter? And how much detail should I go into as to why I am moving? Thanks.

Relocating for work

Relocation during a job search is always tricky because most companies are not willing to pay relocation expenses to secure quality candidates. Do you have any friends or family in the area who would be willing to let you use their address on your resume? If so, that's the easiest way to avoid raising red flags because you aren't local. If you don't know anybody yet, it might be worth checking to see if there's a UPS Store in the town you plan to relocate to. Usually, they rent P.O. Boxes, but the box's address looks like a street address. If that doesn't work either, I would just include a brief statement that you plan to relocate to x by y date. Good luck with the move!

finding the name of a hiring manager

Sometimes, this is ultra-tough to find, especially if one is responding to an ad on Craigslist. As a paralegal, I often find ads which don't state the name of the firm, nor the contact person, and the description can be overly general, like "large litigation firm seeking.." There are probably more than hundreds of offices in the city which fall under this category.

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