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Cover Letter Basics

Cover letters serve as an introduction. An effective cover letter should be brief, well organized and tailored to match the job for which you are applying.

There are 3 basic sections to a good cover letter:

The Opening:
This section should contain three pieces of information. Who you are (your name), the position you are seeking, and how you heard about the position.

Be specific-state the job by name. Do not say "I am Joe Smith and I am interested in your job opening." This will get you nowhere fast.

You also should mention how you heard about the position. Employers like to know where you found their ad because this helps them evaluate their search efforts. It's okay to be a name dropper. If you have been personally referred by a colleague or a current employee, by all means say so! A personal referral is worth its weight in gold.

The Body:
This is your elevator speech. State why you believe you are a good fit for this position. Give stats and examples to back up your assertion. Stay focused on what you can do for the employer-not what the job will mean to you. Remember, it's about what the employer needs, not what you want. Review the employer's mission and vision statement and then frame your skills to fit into that context.

Watch your grammar and spelling because this is the section that showcases your written communication skills. And most important, keep this section concise. Long and windy cover letters get ignored, so get to the point. Ideally the body of your cover letter should be no more than about 200 to 300 words. (As reference, this paragraph is about 125 words; the entire article thus far is 325.)

The Closing:
In this section, thank the reader for his or her time, reassert that you are a good fit for both the position and their organization, and ask for an interview. Before signing off, state your plan for follow-up. Give the reader a date and time that they can expect you to call. Then be sure you call. Sign the cover letter with your signature and credentials.

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