Back to Basics: Crafting a Winning Cover Letter

Vintage typewriter 2“To Whom It May Concern”…no, that’s not right….”Dear Sir/Madam”….ugh, that’s so outdated….”Dear I-Don’t-Know-Your-Name-and-I’d-Rather-Be-Playing-Scramble-Right-Now…”

Where to start? Many of us still struggle when it comes to crafting a cover letter for a job of interest. I thought it might be valuable to review some of the basics, as job hunting may be new to some of us, while others of us may know that we need to strengthen our letters, based on a lack of positive feedback. Let’s begin:

Q: How should I address my letter if I don’t have a name?

A: Stay away from “Sirs” and “Madams,” and try a title instead. Use something like “Dear Director of Personnel,” “Dear Search Committee Chair,” etc.

Q: How long should my letter be?

A: 1-2 pages should suffice.

Q: What should I include?

A: Rather than repeating information that can easily be found on your résumé/CV, use the space available in a letter to outline how well you fit the position. Here are some basics:

1st paragraph: Mention the position title and where you found the posting. And be sure to express enthusiasm. This paragraph tends to be fairly short.

2nd-4th paragraphs: Highlight ways in which your education/experience/background make you a great match for the position. Use specifics, quantify results if you can, mention milestones, achievements, etc. Just be sure to connect your skills and experiences to the job at hand.

5th/Closing paragraph: Finish with the best way to reach you, reiterate your interest in and fit for the position, and indicate that you will follow up.

Q: When should I hear back? Is it ok to contact the employer to find out where my application stands?

A: If you have not heard any response within two weeks after you submit your materials, get back in touch with the employer. And rather than asking about your candidacy, ask the following two questions:

1) Have you received my materials?

2) What is your timeline for this search?

Both are appropriate questions to ask and will give you a sense of where things stand.

If you would like to have your cover letter reviewed before sending it out, consider making an appointment with an OITE career counselor, or email it to msinche@gmail.com for feedback. Good luck!

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