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Cover letter checklist

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Writing Style

  • Keep your average sentence ten to twenty words. Shorten any sentence of more than twenty words or break it into two sentences.
  • Keep every paragraph under five lines, with most paragraphs shorter.
  • Make sure your sentences begin with or contain, wherever possible, powerful action verbs.

The Basics

  • Address the letter to a person whenever possible, preferably a person who is in a position to make a hiring decision. Check for spelling of the person's name and the exact title.
  • Tailor the letter to the reader to show that you are interested in and have researched the organization.
  • Use your own words. Your letter should highlight your own individual strengths and skills. It is a good idea to look at sample letters as examples of how letters might be written, but don't copy language from sample letters.
  • Demonstrate energy and enthusiasm.
  • Emphasize what you offer the employer, and supplement and support your résumé.
  • Give concrete examples of your abilities and skills.
  • Be concise. Use direct, positive language. Avoid flowery or overly formal wording.
  • Keep a balance between professionalism and friendliness.
  • Include information relevant to the job you are seeking.
  • Clearly ask for the next step in the process without either apology or arrogance.

Contact Information

  • Your pertinent personal data (name, address, zip code, and personal telephone number) should be on every page.
  • Omit your business number unless it is absolutely necessary and safe to include it.
  • If your letter is more than one page long, each page should be numbered and all the pages should be bound together, either by staple or paper clip, so that they will not get separated.

Objectives

  • Does your letter state why you are writing - to apply for a job, follow up on an interview, etc.?
  • Is the letter tied specifically to the target organization and job (if you have details)?
  • Does it address points of relevance, such as applicable skills from the job description or issues discussed at the interview?
  • Does it include references to some of your personality or behavioral traits that are crucial to success in your field? Is your most relevant and qualifying experience prioritized to lend strength to your letter?
  • Have you avoided wasting more space than required with employer names and addresses?
  • Have you omitted any reference to reasons for leaving a particular job? Reasons for change might be important to the employer at the interview, but they are not relevant at this point. Use this precious space to sell, not to justify.
  • Unless they have been specifically requested, have you removed all references to past, current, or desired salaries?
  • If your education is mentioned, is it relevant to the job listing? Is your highest educational attainment the one you mention?
  • Have you avoided listing irrelevant responsibilities or job titles?
  • Have you mentioned your contributions, your achievements, and the problems you have successfully solved during your career?
  • Have you avoided vagueness by eliminating all extraneous information?
  • Is the whole thing long enough to whet the reader's appetite for more details, yet short enough not to satisfy that hunger?
  • Have you left out lists of references and only mentioned the availability of references (if, of course, there is nothing more valuable to fill up the space)? To employers this is a given. If you aren't prepared to produce them on demand, you simply won't get the job.

Correspondence Tips

  • Use standard business style format and 8 1/2" x 11" paper.
  • Type all letters. Employers type even personal notes, so follow suit.
  • Make paragraphs approximately the same length.
  • Always send a letter with a résumé, never a résumé alone.
  • Check your work carefully for grammar and spelling. It is a good idea to have someone else proofread it.
  • Be wary of suggestions to use gimmicks, or desperate-sounding phrases, and exaggerated praise of the employer.
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