Writing a Cover Letter Paragraph by ParagraphOh, the poor neglected cover letter. So often left in the shadow of the mighty resume (or left out altogether). Yet, writing an effective, targeted cover letter is perhaps the single best way to stand out from the crowd and land yourself an interview.

By way of review, your cover letter provides you with the opportunity to:

  • Personalize and target your resume to a particular person, job or employer.
  • Provide insight into your reason(s) for applying to a particular position.
  • Demonstrate your knowledge of the employer. A good cover letter requires you to conduct research about the company and/or position to which you are applying. If you do your homework, you can set yourself apart from other applicants by showing in your cover letter how you can meet the employer’s specific needs.
  • Elaborate both qualitatively and quantitatively on special experience and/or training that you know are of interest to the employer.
  • Open the door to live communication.


A paragraph-by-paragraph blow

While the rules are not set in stone, most cover letters should be roughly three to five paragraphs in length and go something like this:

Paragraph 1:

Indicate where you heard of the job opening and explain why you are interested in this specific position at this particular organization. If you were referred by a friend or colleague, this is the place to name drop.

Paragraph 2:

Describe any past experience in detail as it relates to the position and organization to which you’re applying. Be sure to use data where appropriate. It is not enough to say merely what you’ve done; you also need to demonstrate that you performed previous duties at a high level and with quantifiable results.

Paragraph 3:

(Almost no applicants do this, or do it effectively) Convey your interest in the particular organization and position to which you are applying by detailing your knowledge of the company and the industry in which it operates. Tactfully express your opinion, based on your experience, of where your industry is headed. Consider providing a short plan of how you would approach your new role were you to be hired.

Paragraph 4:

Express your interest in meeting with the person you’re writing to (or the hiring manager if it’s someone else) so as to further discuss the job opportunity, or to explore other potential openings. If appropriate, indicate that you will call him or her within a specific time-frame so as to arrange a mutually convenient date for an interview. (Because many employment ads do not include phone numbers or specifically request “no calls,” I realize that this is not always possible.

Paragraph 5:

Thank your contact person for their time and consideration.

For more, including a sample cover letter that’s just terrible (i.e., what you should not do), check out Writing Powerful Cover Letters (last week’s blog post).