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Cover letters are an incredibly powerful but often misused tool in many job searches. They are the first, and possibly the last, glimpse that a potential employer has into who you are and what you are offering. Maximize the effectiveness of your cover letters by following these tips.

When considering what to include in a cover letter, place yourself in the mindset of a potential employer receiving dozens, if not hundreds, of resumes and letters about any given job. Some will be of exceptional quality. Many, likely, will go unread. Still more will exist in a grey area, and may get set aside for later perusal and consideration. Your cover letter needs to tell the potential employer why they should read further, and there are several ways of making this more likely.

First, keep it short. The letter should be no longer than a few paragraphs. Greet the person briefly, introduce yourself in a sentence or two then launch immediately into your qualifications.

The letter should also be custom to each application. Form letters are rather obviously spotted, and create the impression of someone who is not terribly attached to the outcome. A custom letter should include the company’s name in the body. If possible, it should also include a sentence or two about why you wish to work for this particular company. If you learned of the opening via internal sources, you may wish to mention them by name, assuming you’ve been granted permission to do so.

Your resume has the gritty details of your assorted qualities. Your cover letter needs to summarize these concisely. The best way to do this is to use words and phrases from the job posting into your existing qualifications. By using their own words, they’ll find themselves more in tune with your skills when perusing your resume later. Just how to do this is a fine art. It should never be as blatant as cutting and pasting, but should still be somewhat recognizable as to trigger associations between your offerings and those being sought. This, too, is why custom letters are important. A form letter cannot possibly include qualities specific to every posting for which you are applying.

The closing should be as brief as the introduction. Express interest in meeting the interviewer soon, and note that your resume is attached. The entire letter should not exceed one page.

Ensure that the letter is perfect. There should be no errors of any sort. It should be neatly typeset, but without any garish style or unusual colors. The letter should be prepared on a computer and, if submitting a paper copy, should be neatly printed on a laser printer that leaves no possibility of smudging.

Your cover letter is your most powerful chance to leave a lasting and positive first impression. By using the above advice, you can be well on your way to ensuring that your submitted resumes are often near the top of the stack.

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