Anatomy of a Cover Letter

Following up on my previous post–Cover Letter Blunders–here is how to make a cover letter. Again, I’m not a cover letter expert, but I am employed, and I used this cover letter–so draw your own conclusions.

Paragraph 1: Detail what job you are applying for, and how you found it (this comes directly after “Dear X”).

Example:

I am applying for the position of Widget Inspector, as posted on GetJobsNow.com on April 1, 2011.

 or

When I spoke last week to John Smith, IT Manager, he indicated that your company is considering hiring a Widget Inspector. I am, therefore, respectfully submitting my resume for your consideration, should this position become available.

or

Thank you for taking the time on April 1, 2011 to discuss your company with me. As requested, I am transmitting a copy of my resume for your review. Please feel free to keep it on file.

Many companies and headhunters/placement agencies list more than one job at a time, so they need to know, immediately, which position you are applying for. They also need to know how you found out about the position. HR managers always want to know how successful their advertisement campaign has been via whatever media they are using.

If you are sending a resume to someone who is not specifically advertising a job (I’ve done this, and have gotten a couple of interviews from it), call first and talk to someone in HR. You can briefly introduce yourself and ask if you can send them a resume (see example #3 above). Only call companies which you are reasonably sure employee people with your credentials. I.e., if you are a tax accountant, you shouldn’t be carpet-bombing law firms with resumes unless you are reasonably sure they handle tax cases.

Paragraph 2: Reply to the advertisement.

Example advertisement:

Dewey, Cheatam, and Howe Law Firm is seeking an experienced paralegal for their real estate department. Candidate should have 3 or more years’ experience with deeds, title and closings. Candidate should also be proficient with Word 2000, Windows 7 and type 40 wpm+.

Example reply:

I am an experienced paralegal with a total of 5 years’ experience in real estate, and an additional 3 years of general law experience. In my last position at Landgraab Real Estate, Inc., I handled real estate closings, including deed production. I also worked closely with various title companies. I have excellent computer skills, including experience with all versions of Windows and Word, and I type 65wpm.

In short, for every skill they list, you need to briefly mention that you have what they are looking for. But wait, what if you don’t have one or two skills? This is the place to point out where you have transferable skills.

I have worked as a real estate agent for the past five years. While I do not have paralegal experience, per se, as a real estate agent, I drafted deeds and ordered and reviewed titles.

If you do not have transferable skills, then say nothing. Most people shoot for the moon when seeking a candidate, but are content to settle for a little less—not a lot less, mind you, but a little less. If you are missing only a few things out of a long list, or you feel your fault is minor (you are short a year of experience, or your typing isn’t as fast as they want), then go ahead and apply—being sure to point out all of the ways you match their profile. If you are way off, though, don’t apply; you’ll just waste your time/paper/postage.

If necessary, your paragraph 2 can be split into two or three paragraphs, but try to keep it short and sweet unless you are applying for a high-level professional position and you need to go into more detail about your previous experience.

Paragraph 3: This paragraph should contain your closing

Thank people for their time, etc. If you are going to contact someone to follow-up, let them know here when exactly you will be contacting them. Also let people know when you will be available to start. This is especially important if you are applying for a job outside your commuting range (i.e. you will have to move).

Here is the standard cover letter I have used for years. I change my first paragraph and my second paragraph to match the job I am applying for.

Keri Peardon
[My address]
[My Phone number]
[My e-mail]  

To Whom It May Concern:

I am replying to your advertisement as seen on Craislist.com on July 13, 2010 for a Maintenance Secretary. Please find attached to this e-mail a copy of my resume. 

I have six years of experience performing a wide-variety of legal secretary/paralegal tasks, from document production to file management.  I believe my skills closely relate to the position as described: I am familiar with many of the documents involved in entity formation; I have experience compiling due diligence materials for real estate transactions; I have excellent paper and online filing skills; and I have been in charge of tracking documents post-closing and seeing that everything was completed and finalized before any deadlines.  I am also quite proficient in a number of databases and software programs, including MS Office.

I am available for work immediately.  If you are interested in having an experienced legal professional on your office team, please contact me at the above number or by e-mail. 

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

 Keri Peardon

This letter is meant for e-mailing. If you are sending out a paper copy, you should put both your address and the recipient’s address at the top.

I also found it helpful to keep a spreadsheet of everything I sent out. You may want to track the date sent (and possibly the date and place you saw the ad), address you sent it to, contact name (if any), and maybe even copy the description of the job (if it was online). Online job databases frequently swap information, so keeping track of what all you’ve done prevents you from sending a resume out to the same place twice.

Also, if you see the same job posted on different weeks, or with slightly different wording, you may want to send a follow-up e-mail. Sometimes a company will think it has a new-hire in the bag, then the new-hire changes his or her mind, and they have to start the search all over again. But if you follow-up in those situations, you will catch their attention; it shows you are eager for the position, and they may very well move you to the front of the pack.

My husband and I get to spend the weekend trying to unbury our truck from the hickory tree (our insurance isn’t going to cover the truck OR tree removal), so if I’m not crippled and laid up in bed by the time Monday comes around, I’ll start discussing resumes.

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