Career Corner: Guidelines for writing effective job search letters

Whenever you submit a resume for a job application, you should always include a cover letter to introduce yourself to the employer and motivate them to read your resume. Your letter documents how your qualifications meet the job requirements and details what you, a potential employee, have to offer the employer. More than a simple preview of your resume, the letter is your tool to demonstrate a good match between what you have to offer and what the employer is seeking. In today's labour market, literacy, communication skills and motivation are highly prized by employers. Your letter is an important vehicle in proving you are willing and able to communicate in a professional manner.

A cover letter should be no longer than one page (three to four paragraphs) and should contain high quality print on the same paper as your resume. You may even choose to use the same letterhead on both your resume and cover letter. Always remember to use a business format and do not forget to spell check, proof read and sign the letter before sending it out.

To help you decide the content of your letter, it is useful to first think about what concerns and needs an employer might have when trying to decide which candidates they will interview. Remember, it is not always the most qualified person who gets the job, but the person who best convinces the employer they are the right person for the job. That can be you if you make the employer's concerns your concerns! An important point to remember is that the cover letter is all about what you can do for the employer, not what you want or need. The following three questions summarize some of the common concerns of many employers. Can you do the job? Will you do the job? Will you fit in?

A Simple Plan
Letters are easier to write if you plan your paragraphs and stick to one theme per paragraph. Here is a simple format to try:

Paragraph One: Apply for the job. When responding to an advertisement, specify the job title you are applying for as well as where and when you saw the ad. If someone referred you to the employer, mention the name of the person who referred you. If you are applying cold, tell the employer the kinds of work for which you are applying. It is better to be specific rather than saying you are applying for ANY jobs they might have available. Remember, enthusiasm is catchy. If you were excited or happy to see the ad, or you are genuinely interested in their products and services, tell them! The first and last paragraphs should be the shortest in your letter - two sentences are often plenty.

Paragraph Two: Can you do the job? Do you have the skills and aptitudes to undertake the job with a minimum amount of training, or with the usual training provided by the employer? Talk about your jobspecific skills and how they relate to the position. If you are applying to an advertised posting, refer to the qualifications as outlined in the ad, using the same wording as the employer. Use this paragraph to highlight your related education and experience including field placements, volunteer, co-op and summer experiences. Do not just say you have a skill. Offer specific examples to demonstrate where and how you have proven your skills. Never apologize for what you do not have. Instead, talk about transferable skills and what you CAN do. Think of this paragraph as the "technical" part of your sales pitch - your description of specific job-related information.

Paragraph Three: Will you do the job? Will you fit in? Simply put, this is a good place to talk about your personal strengths and positive qualities. What would previous employers say about your positive work habits? How have you demonstrated your motivation? What examples can you give to show you have the ability to communicate or get along with customers and co-workers? Don't just say you have excellent communication skills. Use examples of what and where. Some employers consider your personal skills as important - if not more important than your "technical" abilities.

Paragraph Four: Express your interest in meeting with them to exchange further information in a personal interview. Offer your phone number and ask them to call you when it is convenient. If you are applying cold without an advertisement, it is a good idea to offer to contact them rather than to say you hope to hear from them soon. Give them a time range for when they can expect to hear from you, say, within the week.

Close with your sign off (Yours truly) but do not forget to sign!

If you are really at a loss for what you can say about yourself in your cover letters, you can ask for assistance at the Fanshawe College Career Services department in Room D1063. Just drop by or call 519-452-4294 and ask to make an appointment with the consultant responsible for your program. They are prepared to work with you to help you identify your skills and strengths so that you are able to create effective cover letters and resumes you are comfortable sending to employers.