4 Essential Steps To Writing a Great Cover Letter

Last Updated Aug 29, 2011 11:14 AM EDT

Do you agonize over your resume, formatting and editing it just so, but leave your cover letter to the last minute? Dashing off a quick email and pressing "send" should be done for confirming Friday night drink plans -- not for landing your dream job. "Cover letters are interesting in that so many people dismiss them as not important. They are an important sales tool," says Dale Mayer, author of Career Essentials: The Cover Letter. Here are her 4 no-fail steps to a "must-hire" cover letter:

1. Make It A Priority Take the time to think about your message, craft it and refine it, just like you do with your resume or any other business document. "The purpose of a cover letter is to make your job application rise above the competition," says Mayer. "If you send a badly written letter, you will actually hurt your chances of being shortlisted."

2. Say Something New Two big mistakes are simply repeating the information from your resume or using one cover letter for many job leads. Instead, Mayer says to "show hiring managers you solve a problem for them by taking your accomplishments listed in the resume and applying it to their needs." Spell out for them why they can't afford to not hire you.

3. Know Your Industry Norms Speak to mentors, peers, or others in your network who have done hiring in your industry. How long should your cover letter be? How should it be sent? As an attachment? In the text of an email? Snail mail? Whatever works for you and your particular position, know that simply sending a resume with a blank email is never a good strategy. "The layout and delivery of a digital age cover letter may have changed -- the message and purpose has not," says Mayer.

4. Read It Over -- Twice The worst feeling in the world is seeing a typo in an otherwise outstanding cover letter just after you hit "send." Prevent that by re-reading it a few times. "Like writing your resume, take the time to write a first draft and let it sit. Then go back, read it out loud and check that it's as perfect as can be before you send it," says Mayer.

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