The basic format of a good cover letter is:
-- A three-sentence paragraph up top that summarizes your skills and experience that are explicitly related to the job in question.
-- Bulleted list of achievements that are directly related to the job.
-- Summary paragraph that says you really think you'd add to the company's bottom line (say that in a specifically relevant way) and that you'd like to set up a meeting to talk.
Here's a sample cover letter to give you a sense of what you're aiming for.
The cover letter should be pretty straightforward. The problem is that most people think they are an exception to the rules of cover letter writing. Most people, in fact, are not exceptions to any rule. Just statistically speaking. And your career will go much more smoothly if you stop thinking like you're a special case.
For cover letters, I find people are more willing to follow general formatting guidelines if the understand the reasoning behind it.
1. Don't stand out
You do not want to stand out for the format of your cover letter. You want to stand out for your skills and experience. Good resumes follow the rules of good resumes because hiring managers want to compare apples to apples. You should follow a generally accepted format so that if you do have things that are great about you, those things stand out. If you use a totally new, creative, innovative, however-you-describe-it, format, the hiring manager cannot see what makes you different beyond that you don't understand how to make life easy for hiring managers.
2. Use bullets
When people read cover letters, they are in a hiring mindset. That is, they are expecting to scan a page to get a general idea of someone. This is what the resume format is great for - leading the eye to the most information quickly. A good cover letter should be that way, too. This means you need to have a bulleted list. The cover letter is short, so include just one list. Three or five bullets (the brain handles odd numbered lists best). Once the bullets are on the page, you can bet that someone reading will read those first. Make them so strong that they get you the interview before the interviewer gets to the resume.
3. Write from the recruiter's point of view
Address the person by name if possible. They immediately like you better. And use the name of their company. People like reading that, too. Write, in the opening paragraph, what skills and experience you have that will allow you to do a great job in the position you'd like to interview for. So often people want to tell the hiring manger ALL their experience. But the hiring manager only cares about the perfectly relevant experience. Also, lift words from the job description and use them in the cover letter.
4. Show you understand the rules of the workforce
Of course, all hotshots break rules. But you can't break rules if you don't know what they are. Breaking implies knowing. Otherwise it's not rule-breaking; it's just acting out of ignorance. A cover letter is a way to show a hiring manager you have learned the rules. Here are some tips for getting good at thinking outside the box. And, hint: None of the tips involve cover letters.
5. Don't ask too much of a cover letter
Look, a good cover letter does not save your life. It's just sort of the icing on the cake. For example, a great cover letter for a job you'll hate is no good. So before you spend a lot of time on that cover letter, do the most important work of any job hunt: seek out resources for how to find a job you'll love
(Hard copy: sender address and contact info at top. Your address and the date can be left-justified, or centered.)
Your Street Address
City, State Zip Code
Month Day, Year
Mr./Ms./Dr. FirstName LastName
Name of Organization
Street or P.O. Box Address
City, State Zip Code
Dear Mr./Ms./Dr. LastName:
Opening paragraph: State why you are writing; how you learned of the organization or position, and basic information about yourself.
2nd paragraph: Tell why you are interested in the employer or type of work the employer does (Simply stating that you are interested does not tell why, and can sound like a form letter). Demonstrate that you know enough about the employer or position to relate your background to the employer or position. Mention specific qualifications which make you a good fit for the employer’s needs. (Focus on what you can do for the employer, not what the employer can do for you.) This is an opportunity to explain in more detail relevant items in your resume. Refer to the fact that your resume is enclosed. Mention other enclosures if such are required to apply for a position.
3rd paragraph: Indicate that you would like the opportunity to interview for a position or to talk with the employer to learn more about their opportunities or hiring plans. State what you will do to follow up, such as telephone the employer within two weeks. If you will be in the employer’s location and could offer to schedule a visit, indicate when. State that you would be glad to provide the employer with any additional information needed. Thank the employer for her/his consideration.
(Your handwritten signature [on hard copy])
Your name typed
(In case of email, your full contact info appears below your printed name [instead of at the top, as for hard copy], and of course there is no handwritten signature)
Enclosure(s) (refers to resume, etc.)
(Note: the contents of your letter might best be arranged into four paragraphs. Consider what you need to say and use good writing style. See the following examples for variations in organization and layout.)