Like the façade on a building or a book’s cover, the cover letter is the first thing recruiters see when they receive a job application. Even though the old adage, “One should not judge a book by its cover,” is true, books are often judged not by the potentially insightful narrative contained within; but instead a warm reception is determined by its “cover.” Readers can be fickle, and if a book has been subjected to scorn or criticism or if it is declared a “bore” by the world’s preeminent literary critic, it is unlikely that readers will eagerly run to their nearest bookstore to purchase and peel back the pages of that book. In the same way, if a cover letter appears to be dull, uninformative, or irrelevant its reader will assume that the corresponding resume is simply the same and will not take the time to discover whether his or her assumption is fact or fiction. Would you enter a museum whose façade is made to resemble a building which is not only in disrepair, but looks abandoned and structurally unsound? The cover letter should be like an enticing welcome mat, drawing in its reader, prompting him or her to investigate what lies beyond.
Career advice pro, Debra Wheatman, writing for CareerRealism recently composed an article, titled 5 Parts to a Cover Letter (a.k.a. How to Write a Good One!), which dissects a cover letter into 5 main parts, each of which should be included in any cover letter.
- The Salutation (The Hello). A must-have, every cover letter should begin with a salutation. Wheatman advises, “Get a name, any name. By hook or by crook get a name.” If you do not have the name of a hiring manager or recruiter, Wheatman suggests using “To whom it may concern” or “Dear hiring manager.” Another acceptable salutation is “Dear Sir or Madam.”
- The Opening (The Grab). Like the introduction to Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s novel Paul Clifford—i.e. “It was a dark and stormy night…”—your cover letter must grab the attention of whoever is reading it. Wheatman recommends, “Your opening paragraph is your introduction” and should provide “the reader with some immediate and focused information regarding the position you are pursuing and a few core competencies that demonstrate your strength.”
- The Second Paragraph (The Hook). Once you have gotten the attention of whoever is reading your cover letter, you need to find a way to keep it! This, Wheatman says, is the purpose of “The Hook.” The second paragraph, asserts Wheatman, should contain specific “examples of the work performed and results achieved” and should be “connected to your resume.”
- The Third Paragraph (Paragraph of Knowledge). Recruiters want to see that you not only read the vacancy announcement (which should be evident from reading your resume) and that you are qualified, but that you have a genuine interest in working at their company. The third paragraph, says Wheatman, should be directed towards this end: “demonstrate you know about the company that you prompted to write. This shows the reader that you did some preliminary homework and understand the company’s drivers and goals.”
- The Fourth Paragraph (The Close). Instead of concluding your cover letter on a down note, use it as a means of wrapping up your pitch. Wheatman recommends that the closing paragraph should “quickly summarize what you offer and close by either suggesting a meeting or indicating that you will call in a certain number of days.”