How to Write a Cover Letter That Gets You the Job Interview

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So you’re back in the job-hunting game after getting laid off, fired, downsized, outsourced, or one of the many other ways you can be shoved out the door. Now it’s time to work on your résumé and cover letter. How can you make sure you stand out from the rest? Lucky for you, we have some answers. The Cheat Sheet spoke with career expert Juanita Hines to get her advice on how to write a winning cover letter. So get out a pen and paper or your digital device and take some notes.

The Cheat Sheet: What is the main purpose of the cover letter?

Juanita Hines: The purpose of the cover letter is to provide your introduction to the employer. It should entice the employer to want to read your résumé and it also allows the company to see your writing abilities.

CS: How long should your cover letter be?

JH: I traditionally recommend no longer than a page. The cover letter should be a teaser to your résumé, not a justification letter (justifying why you left or the problems that you had [at your last job]).

CS: What are some of the keys to writing a winning cover letter?

JH: Write with the employer in mind. You should ask yourself, ‘what skills and experience is this employer seeking that I possess?’

CS: Is it necessary or helpful to include key words from the job advertisement?

JH: Absolutely. But don’t just throw random keywords in. Make sure to use them strategically. This means you should look at the major keywords and demonstrate how what you have done at your previous jobs will be beneficial for that employer.

CS: What are some cover letter mistakes to avoid?

JH: Writing bland cover letters or using templates and forgetting to either fill in your information or delete the information from the template. You won’t believe how many times that has happened. I’ve also seen cover letters where people have brought up negative or controversial information. Also, the basic things like grammar, spelling, and punctuation mistakes have been common. Lastly, in these days of technology, there is no reason that anyone should be addressing their cover letters to “whom it may concern.” Research to identify the person who is recruiting for that role and address them as such. Once again, it’s about setting yourself apart.

CS: What are some things about a cover letter that would make a hiring manager choose to call a candidate for an interview?

JH: When candidates set themselves apart from other individuals by doing the aforementioned things. Also starting with a good lead-in that sets the tone for the employer and allows them to know why you’re applying for the job as well as what you have to offer.
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