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First impressions count. And your cover letter may be the first "first impression" you make on a prospective employer. This is your chance to highlight your qualifications and enthusiasm for the position and, in many ways, can be more important than the resume. In fact, our research has found that a strong cover letter can give job applicants a clear edge over their competition.

Writing an Effective Cover Letter

First impressions count. And your cover letter may be the first “first impression” you make on a prospective employer. This is your chance to highlight your qualifications and enthusiasm for the position and, in many ways, can be more important than the resume. In fact, our research has found that a strong cover letter can give job applicants a clear edge over their competition.

So how can you create an effective cover letter? Following are some tips:

Be professional. A sloppy or unprofessional document can severely hurt your chances of reaching the next stage of the application process. The letter should be concise and customized for the particular company. A hiring manager can spot a “canned” cover letter a mile away.

Address it properly. Avoid addressing your letter, “To whom it may concern.” Find out exactly who is hiring for the position and prepare your salutation accordingly. Sending your letter and resume to the right person will make a favorable impression and ensure that the appropriate people receive your information. If you have any questions about the individual's name, including the correct spelling, call the company and ask.

Announce your purpose. In the opening paragraph, explain what position you are applying for and why, and give the reader a reason to continue reviewing the document. In addition, demonstrate your knowledge of the firm and, if possible, include the name of a mutual contact (for example, “I am writing at the suggestion of John Smith, our fellow association member.”).

Tell how you can help. Focus on the ways you can contribute to the company's success and detail the specific qualities you bring to the position.

Create a soft version. An e-mailed cover letter should be written with the same professionalism as a printed one. In this case, however, limit the letter to two brief paragraphs. Paste the content into the body of the message and attach a copy of the document and resume.

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