The 6 Musts of a Cover Letter
While perusing the job advertisements of your favorite career site, you've just found a position that seems tailor-made for you. That's a common scenario, but unfortunately, one that often strikes fear into the hearts of even the most seasoned job seekers. After all, there are a lot of steps to go through between locating a job and actually getting it. One of the first involves addressing a cover letter appropriately.
Addressing it properly is important because first impressions can make a big difference. However, being unsure how to get started could create a big roadblock. That's especially true when you need to write a cover letter that does not go to a specific person. Fortunately, after reading the essential rules below, you'll feel well-equipped to write a cover letter that shows recruiters and hiring managers you're in this career-bettering game to win a job that meets or exceeds your hopes and dreams.
Don't call the company to get a name
For years, you've probably heard about how important it is to not just come across professionally when writing a cover letter, but to also make your content authentic. It shouldn't seem like a particular cover letter is the same one you've given to numerous other hiring managers, without even a sentence of personalization.
However, it's not necessary to call the company to find out the name of the person doing the hiring. Hiring managers may see that as overkill, and you're not likely to lose points if the letter is not addressed to the hiring manager by name.
Do your research
The tip above doesn't let you off the hook and permit you to use a totally generic greeting in all cases. In the Internet age, it's usually easier than you may think to figure out the name of the person responsible for hiring. Start by tapping into resources like LinkedIn. Doing a Google search or looking at the company's website to check for biographies of employees are also useful things to try.
If it is not clear which person is hiring for your desired position, address your letter to the individual who's the head of the respective department. That shows you went to a lot of effort, and even if someone at a lower level in the department is handling hiring duties, you shouldn't be at fault for addressing your letter to a person who's higher up.
Don't assume a human resources professional is the recipient
If you have hunted for a specific name thoroughly but still come up blank, avoid simply addressing the letter, "Dear HR Professional." That greeting may not be accurate, because there's a chance the person who's hiring for this position doesn't normally work in human resources. If you are in this situation, it's preferable to instead refer to the recipient as a hiring manager. Even if the person does not ordinarily handle hiring, he or she is doing that in this instance, so the greeting works.
Be careful with gender-specific titles
Err on the side of caution if you find out the name of the hiring manager but realize you're still not sure of the person's gender. For example, the names Shelby and Shannon are just two of dozens of names that could be given to either a man or woman.
If you're lucky enough to find a picture of the hiring manager along with the name, it may help you determine the individual's gender with certainty. If you're not that fortunate, avoid starting with Mr., Mrs., Sir, Madam, Ms. or Miss. Instead, just use the person's full name by saying, for example, "Dear Shannon Smith."
Maintain formality when addressing multiple people
A job posting may outline how the hiring process will go and mention you will only be contacted for an interview if your skills and experience can impress a hiring committee. In that case, don't assume it's okay to begin your letter with a "Hello," or "Hi," just because you're addressing several people instead of one.
Use the same language that was described to you in the job ad when making your greeting. If the listing for the open job says, "Qualified applicants will be contacted no later than August 31 after the selection panel narrows down the candidate pool," address your letter by saying, "Dear Selection Panel," or "Dear Selection Panel Members."
Going with that approach doesn't just demonstrate you took care to be professional. It also shows you have read the job advertisement thoroughly and have a clear understanding of what it'll take to be hired.
Proofread carefully to check for misspelled names
You could negate all the hard work performed to address a cover letter as completely as possible just by failing to spell the name carefully. Academy Award-nominated actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is a case in point when it comes to reminding us all how many names are difficult to spell.
All parts of your cover letter should be proofread extremely diligently to check for mistakes and sections that may be unclear. However, many people just glance quickly over the part of a cover letter that addresses the recipient. It's such a small part of the overall composition that it's understandable you might just tell yourself, "I'm sure that's spelled right," without actually checking it. However, that's a very dangerous stance to take. You can be sure if you did happen to spell the addressee's name wrong, he or she will immediately notice that blunder.
A properly addressed cover letter doesn't guarantee you'll get a job, of course, but it'll more than likely give you a leg up on candidates who weren't so careful with the opening of their letters. Rather than automatically going with an overly formal and generic address such as, "To Whom It May Concern," use the advice above to show you're willing to work harder than many to stand out from the pack.
Related: How to Find a Job in 6 Simple Steps
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