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December 04, 2017

How To Write Cover Letters For Your 2018 Job Search

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How To Write Cover Letters...

By Susannah Snider, Personal Finance Editor at USNews.

Pro tip: Don't start your cover letter with "To Whom It May Concern."

When it comes to job searching, writing a great cover letter is key to scoring a job interview. It gives you a chance to display your character, address any gaps in your work history, mention whether a current employee referred you and showcase your fit for the job.

Still stumped about how to perfect this all-important job application document? Here's what to know about writing a cover letter.

What is a cover letter? This written document typically accompanies your resume and any other application materials when you apply for a job. The cover letter doesn't just repeat what's on your resume. It builds and explains the details of your work history and outlines why your previous experience will help you succeed at the job.

Alternatives for "To Whom It May Concern." Sorry, folks. Kicking off your cover letter with that classic phrase is outdated and may make you sound totally out of touch, experts say. It also may make your cover letter sound like a form letter that you've sent to dozens of hiring managers.

Instead of starting with that five-word cover-letter cliche, make an effort to find out who will be reading your cover letter and use his or her name in your formal greeting.

How to find the name of the person to whom you're addressing the cover letter. Ideally, you were referred by a professional contact who can tell you to whom to address the cover letter. Many employers don't believe in blind cover letters.

But if you're not sure what name to use, look at the job posting. Does it tell you to send all application documents to Mr. X or Ms. Y? If you're working with a recruiter, he or she should be able to demystify the name of your contact at the organization. You may also be able to do some online sleuthing on the company's website or a business networking site such as LinkedIn to locate the name of the hiring manager. Even if the manager won't be the first person to open your email, it'll make it look like you did your homework and customized your cover letter for that specific job.

What to know when looking for cover letter samples. There are tons of places to search for cover letter examples online. It's an easy Google Search away. For example, you'll find dozens of examples on job-search sites and on university career center websites, among other places. But don't just stop at the generic cover letter template, experts say. Make sure to customize your search by including your industry.

Different employment fields have varying customs when it comes to the style and substance of a cover letter, and you want to ensure that you're adhering to industry norms and common practices when penning your letter. After all, the cover letter from, say, a computer engineer should look very different from one coming from a journalist.

What to include in a cover letter. If you're responding to a job posting, pay close attention to what the job ad asks for you to put in the cover letter. Does it require you to name the digital file in a certain way? Should you answer specific questions or address requirements? Make sure that your cover letter complies with any instructions so that your application doesn't get tripped up in any online system or simply ignored by a human because it failed to follow the rules.

If you were referred by a professional contact, the beginning of the cover letter is the best place to say who recommended you and how you're connected to the person. As you construct the cover letter, demonstrate the value and accomplishments you brought to previous employment experiences by using metrics and other measurable proof of success.

Smart cover letter writers will parrot back some of the language used in the job description to make them sound well-suited for the job, experts say. Before you submit the cover letter, have a professional mentor someone you can trust - review the letter and give you feedback.

How long should a cover letter be? Brevity is key when it comes to writing a good cover letter, experts say. You need to keep them short and sweet. The job post might give you a word count or ask that you limit the cover letter to one page. If you don't have any hints from, say, the job posting on how long it should be, opt to keep it short. "You want to whet their appetite.

Susannah Snider is the Personal Finance editor at US News. Since 2010, she has reported on a wide range of personal finance topics, from consumer travel to college financial aid, student loans and employment. Snider previously worked as a staff writer at Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and holds a master's degree in journalism from the University of Southern California. You can follow her on Twitter @sussnider.

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