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Six Tips for Writing A Winning Cover Letter

By Marshall Loeb

NEW YORK -- These days, as many employers prefer cover letters to be sent via email, the strength of your writing will mean the difference between a shot at an interview, or a trip to the "deleted items" folder.

The cover letter is your potential employer's first introduction to your personality. This is every bit as important as the skills and experience you list on your resume. Naturally, you want to make a great first impression.

To make your cover letter stand out, consider:

Sending it to a specific person. Letters addressed "To whom it may concern" at best show you have little knowledge of or interest in the company. Call the company or check its Web site to find out specifically who is likely to be reading your application. Ask for the correct spelling of that person's name, as well as his or her title.

Using your connections. If you know people who know people at a place you want to work, ask for a referral. Starting your cover letter with "Our mutual friend/acquaintance So-in-so thought I should email you" will immediately create a sense of familiarity for the person reading your letter. He or she will be much more likely to give you a thorough look.

Staying relevant -- and brief. Describe your most recent accomplishment and how it relates to the job you want. Try to include new information about yourself, rather than reiterating what is in your resume.

Keeping your goal in mind. Be specific about what job you want and why you would be a strong addition. This is where solid research comes in handy -- search the Web site, newspapers, annual reports, etc. Find out what the company needs, and describe how you can help.

Ending with a call to action. Ask the employer to call or email you, instead of writing that you'll follow up with them. You should still follow up, with a call or via email, within a week of your sending your letter and resume.

Proofreading. Double-check the letter before you send it. When you're applying for multiple jobs, it's easy to send the wrong cover letter, or not change the company name. Make sure you have addressed the letter to the correct person and have included the correct company name and job position. Check also, of course, for spelling and grammar problems. And if you're sending your resume via an attachment, don't forget to attach it before you send it.

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Article from October 2006