The Cover Letter: Importance, Details & Format

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  • 0:41 Cover Letter Heading
  • 1:17 First Paragraph
  • 2:43 Second Paragraph
  • 4:22 Third Paragraph
  • 4:56 Cover Letter Close
  • 5:32 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jennifer Lombardo
The cover letter is a necessity when applying for a job. There is a basic format that you can follow consisting of a salutation, three paragraphs and a close that can be used to get a potential employer's attention.

What Is a Cover Letter?

Many feel that the cover letter has traveled down the path to extinction with the dinosaurs. When I surveyed my freshman class this past year, almost no one had ever heard of a cover letter. Most individuals have forgotten the importance of taking the time to submit a cover letter along with their resume.

What is a cover letter? A cover letter contains the job applicant's credentials and interest in the position. It informs the potential employer what you are enclosing in the email or letter, and it also explains why you are contacting them. Lastly, it explains why they should consider hiring you for the position.

Cover Letter Heading

There is a standardized format of a cover letter. The top of a cover letter should have a heading that matches your resume. The format is as follows:

Address, City, State, Zip Code
Home Phone, Cell Phone
Email Address

The next line should have the date, followed by a space and the contact information of the potential employer. It should look like this:


Addressee's Name, Title
Company Name
Mailing Address
City, State, Zip Code

First Paragraph

Most cover letters are glanced at for a total of 45 seconds. The cover letter needs to be direct, short and well written. Limit your cover letter length to three paragraphs.

A cover letter should consist of three paragraphs and should all be aligned to the left. The same font, spacing and look of your resume should be reflected in your cover letter. A cover letter should begin with 'Dear Mr.' or 'Ms.' or 'Dear Human Resource Manager' if there is no contact name mentioned in the advertisement. Do not use 'Mrs.' as it is not considered professional because there is no way of determining someone's marital status.

The first task of a cover letter is to capture the reader's attention, so the first paragraph should quickly explain why you are interested in the position. The next two sentences should contain why you would be beneficial to the company. This is called a selling point, and it informs the potential employer about how you could be a valuable asset to the company. For example:

I am responding to the advertised Marketing Manager position that appeared in the New Santa Times. As you can see by my enclosed resume, I am extremely qualified for the position. I have an MBA and over ten years experience handling marketing programs for ABC and NYB corporations.

Second Paragraph

The second paragraph of your cover letter should expand on your qualifications and experiences. The explanation should explain why you would be a perfect fit for the advertised position. This is also where you should reread the ad and make sure to address each item the company is looking for with your own selling point. For example, the ad might state, 'Looking for someone with experience working trade shows.' The second paragraph of your cover letter could contain:

I spent the last five years organizing industry trade shows, from the initial design phase to working the floor and educating the consumers about our product. In fact, our booth won an award at the last trade show for the Most Interactive Display.

It is critical to associate your strengths and accomplishments with what the company is looking for in their open position. Your second paragraph should not be more than five sentences in order to keep the reader's interest. For example, if the job advertisement mentions that they require someone with flexibility, excellent organizational skills and a knack for learning on the job, then you should provide examples from your job history that match what they need for the position.

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