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What is a cover letter? Also known as a letter of introduction, letter of application, transmittal letter, or broadcast letter, your cover letter - unlike your resume - tells the employer the type of position you're seeking and highlights the aspects of your experience that qualify you for that position. Your cover letter can explain things that your resume can't. If you have large gaps in your employment history or you are reentering the job market or changing the focus of your career, a cover letter can explain these circumstances in a positive way. Finally, it is extremely important to keep your cover letter brief. The cover letter should never, never exceed one page, and it's best to keep it well under a full page. In general, each paragraph should have no more than one to three sentences. Of course, it almost goes without saying that your cover letter absolutely cannot contain typographical or grammatical errors. Almost.

First Paragraph

It is essential that your first paragraph captures the employer's attention, provides detailed information about the benefits the employer will receive from you, and, of course, helps you stand out from the competition. It is a good idea to include one or two key selling points or benefits you can offer the employer that other job-seekers cannot. It is also important to indicate that you are interested in a position at the recipient's organization. In essence, the first paragraph of your cover letter can serve the same function as the "job objective" section many people include in their resume, and expand upon it.

Second Paragraph

The second paragraph of your cover letter should go into some detail about your work experience that is relevant to the position you are seeking. Be certain to stress accomplishments and achievements rather than job duties and responsibilities. Expand on specific items from your resume that are relevant to the job you are seeking.

Third Paragraph

Relate yourself to the company, giving details why you should be considered for a position. By this point, a hiring manager reading the cover letter will be thinking: "What can this person do for me?" Answer by outlining a relevant career goal. For example, if you are applying for a sales position, do not say that you are training to be an airline pilot. Good third paragraphs are like stories that unfold for the reader and will paint you as someone who belongs with the reader's organization.

Final Paragraph

The final paragraph of your cover letter should be proactive - request action! Ask for the job interview (or a meeting) in this paragraph. Express your confidence that you are a perfect fit for the job. Put the employer on notice that you plan to follow-up within a specified time. You have already made your case in the second and third paragraphs; if you have done a good job, the employer will feel the need to contact you.

Not everyone is capable of writing a great cover letter. It can be hard to brag about yourself. It can be even harder to find the right words to add value to your resume. If you have been procrastinating or sweat profusely whenever you sit in front of a computer screen to draft your cover letter, it's probably time to seek professional writing assistance.

More Cover Letter Resources

Basics About Cover Letters
An introductory look at cover letters.

Common Mistakes People Make on Cover Letters
A cover letter is an essential tool used to generate interest in you and your resume. Be certain to avoid these common mistakes when composing yours.

Cover Letter Do's and Don'ts
A relatively comprehensive list of what to do and, perhaps more importantly, what not to do when composing your cover letter, by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D. and Katharine Hansen.

Cover Letter Recommendations
A cover letter - done properly - is a selling tool, an opportunity to "stand out among other applicants" and convince potential employers to hire you. Done improperly, it can be a disaster. Which do you want?

Cover Letter Resource Guide
A comprehensive guide to writing cover letters, discussing who needs a cover letter, what makes a good cover letter, a sample cover letter and including links to other resources on the web.

Dynamic Cover Letters That Generate Higher Salaries and More Interviews
It is extremely important to create a cover letter that will "sell" your skills and abilities to potential employers. ProvenResumes.com shows you how.

General Outline for Cover Letters
The cover letter should serve as an introduction to your resume. Follow this outline to write a great one.

Guidelines and Suggestions to Improve Your Cover Letter
The author provides several general guidelines to follow when composing your cover letter.

How to Write a GREAT Letter
A collection of links to articles describing effective letter-writing strategies, including tips on how to organize your thoughts and ideas, common letter writing mistakes and how to follow up.

How-To - Guide to Cover Letters
A how-to guide to writing effective cover letters, including: content, formatting and writing tips, from careerbuilder.com.

Selling Your Skills on Paper
A strong cover letter can establish a personal connection with potential employers before you even meet. Renee Gotcher provides several tips for writing a great letter and examples of what it should look like.