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Writing a Cover Letter

 

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Job candidates rarely send a resume without an accompanying cover letter. While your resume is designed to demonstrate your professional and technical skills, the cover letter is your opportunity to convince the reader of your fit for a specific job. When written persuasively, a cover letter is a powerful sales tool for candidates in every field.

Your cover letter determines a company's first impression of you, as it reveals your professionalism, communication skills, personality and a brief summary of your qualifications. Cover letters generally fall into four general categories:


1) Direct Mail Letters: written to companies or recruiters to express interest in available opportunities

2) Referral Letters: written to individuals who were referred to you by someone else

3) Broadcast Letters: written by career changers who wish to highlight their suitability for a new field

4) Follow-up Letters: written after the interview to reinforce your suitability for the job

 

Every cover letter should include the following three points:

1) Your objectives. Are you applying for a specific job, trying to get an interview or simply hoping to discuss general opportunities at that organization? Tell the reader why you are writing.

2) The qualities, skills and experience that you bring to the table. Emphasize your professional, communication and interpersonal strengths.

3) Why you want to work for that particular organization or person. Show the compatibility between your goals and their corporate mission and culture.

A well-written letter is usually the first step to getting your resume read and evaluated. You must do everything possible to make it exceptional.


Cover Letter Writing Tips:


1. Always write to the specific individual who is responsible for filling the position.

2. Show the employer you've done your homework and have a genuine understanding of the organization's needs, mission statement and business philosophy.

3. Write each letter separately, even if you use a common framework. Personalize the letter with a sentence or two designed to reflect sincere interest in the specific employer.

4. Use natural language in simple, direct and clear sentences. Don't try to impress the reader with unusual vocabulary or complicated sentence structures.

5. Express your capabilities with confidence, but don't exaggerate. Two part-time jobs at a bakery do not constitute "extensive" manufacturing experience.

6. Check for accuracy in spelling, punctuation and sentence structure.

7. Make sure the letter is completely professional in appearance. Use standard business letter format on stationery matching your resume. Do not use dot matrix printers or inferior typewriter ribbons.

8. Finish with a strong closing statement indicating the action you desire. Take the initiative to request an interview and state your intention to call in a week or two. If you indicate you will call in the letter, make sure you do.

9. Let your personality and energy shine through your words. Use a few vivid details about your background to capture the reader's interest.

10. Mention activities, honors and special skills. These often demonstrate skills employers seek, such as leadership, organization, critical thinking, teamwork, self management, initiative and the ability to influence others.

11. Keep copies of everything you send and follow up according to your stated intentions. Make yourself easily available and tell employers how to reach you. Provide a number that will be answered either by a person or by voice mail. If possible, include an e-mail address.

12. Most important, focus the letter on what YOU can do for THEM, rather than the other way around. Too many cover letters focus on what the applicant wants, rather than what he can deliver. The difference determines who will get the job offer!


Cover Letter Blunders To Avoid


1. Unrelated career goals: Tailor your cover letter to the specific position for which you are applying. Your letter should convey a genuine interest in the position and a long-term pledge to fulfilling its duties.

2. Wasted words: Since cover letters are generally four paragraphs long, every word should be directly related to your purpose for writing. If you are applying for a position as an editor, include only those skills and experience most applicable to that field. Any other information weakens your application.

3. Form letters. Mass mailings (in which you send a general form letter to a large number of employers) are not recommended. Every cover letter should be tailored to the position you seek and demonstrate your commitment to a specific industry and your familiarity with each particular employer.

4. Inappropriate stationery: White and ivory are the only acceptable paper colors for a cover letter.

5. Inappropriate tone: If you desire serious consideration, your cover letter should adopt a serious, professional tone. Avoid jokes, acting coy/cute or anything meant to be amusing.

6. Erroneous company information. Be sure to verify the accuracy of any company information that you mention in your cover letter.

7. Desperation: In your cover letter, you should sound determined, not desperate.

8. Personal photos: Unless you are seeking employment in modeling, acting, or other performance industries, it is not appropriate to send a photograph. An employer will see what you look when you reach the interview stage.

9. Confessed shortcomings: Some job-hunters mistakenly call attention to their weaknesses in their cover letters, hoping to ward off an employer's objections. Focus instead on your skills, related experience and company knowledge.

10. Misrepresentation: In every stage of the job-search process, never misrepresent yourself. In many companies, erroneous information contained in a cover letter or resume will be grounds for dismissal as soon as the inaccuracy is discovered. Protect yourself by sticking to the facts. Present yourself in the best possible light, but don't exaggerate to the point of misrepresentation.

11. Demanding statements: Your cover letter should demonstrate what you can do for an employer, not what he or she can do for you. Also, since you are requesting an employer's consideration, your letter shouldn't include personal preferences or demands. Leave the interviewing specifics to the hiring manager's discretion. Defer a discussion of vacation time and other company benefits until after you are hired.

12. Missing resume: Enclose all the materials you refer to in your cover letter. On numerous occasions, employers receive letters with no resumes. Writing samples have been promised but not delivered. Not only is this a disappointment, but a fatal oversight. No employer is going to take the time to remind you of your mistake; he or she has already moved on to the next application.

13. Personal information: Do not include your age, weight, height, marital status, race, religion, or any other personal information unless you feel that it directly pertains to the position that you are seeking. When in doubt, omit it.

14. Choice of pronouns: Your cover letter necessarily requires a thorough discussion of your qualifications. Use the first person ("I") voice.

15. Gimmicks: Gimmicks such as sending a home video or a singing telegram to replace the conventional cover letter may seem attractive. No matter how creative these ideas may sound, the majority of employers will be more impressed with a simple, well-crafted letter.

16. Typographical errors: It is very easy to make mistakes in your letters, particularly when you are writing many in succession. But it is also very easy for a hiring manager to reject any cover letter that contains errors, even those that seem minor at first glance. Here are a few common technical mistakes to watch out for when proofreading your letter:

* Misspelling the hiring contact's name or title in the address, greeting or on the envelope.
* Forgetting to change the name of the organization you're applying to each time it appears in your application, especially in the body of the letter.
* Indicating application for one position and mentioning a different position in the body of the letter.

17. Messy corrections: Your cover letter should contain all pertinent information. If, for any reason, you forget to communicate something to your addressee, retype the letter. Including a supplementary note, either typed or handwritten, will be viewed as unprofessional or lazy.

18. Omitted signature: Don't forget to personalize your letter by signing your name at the end. Use conservative script and either blue or black ink.

 

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