Brushing Up on Professional Development: Crafting a Cover Letter

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You’ve heard it before, and we’ll tell you again–whenever submitting an application to any type of professional opportunity, a cover letter is a must. While some job descriptions may not specify the attachment of a cover letter or in areas of an application that state it is optional, always err on the side of providing one. Here are the reasons why and some helpful tips on how to craft a great cover letter. 

Why are cover letters so important?

For a lot of us, job searching can be tedious. And it is, for good reasons. Employers put candidates through the process of applying and interviewing in order to make sure they have the best fit for what the job requires and that that person molds well with the company culture. Many people make the mistake of using the cover letter as a place to regurgitate what they have on their resume in complete sentences–but we assure you, this isn’t the case! Cover letters are meant to give employers a better taste and picture of who you are, what you enjoy doing, and how you can contribute to their company more than a list of accomplishments and work tasks described in a typical resume can. If you take the extra step to write one that really speaks to your passions, desires, work ethic, and how your qualifications can positively impact the company, employers not only acknowledge your extra effort, but gain a better understanding of who and what your aspirations are, bringing you from a name on a paper to that potential candidate they want to screen on a phone or in-person interview. 

How do I write one? 
Look anywhere, and you’ll find in sample cover letters that the formula is simple and straightforward. Here’s what the format usually looks like:

1.    Your name, address, email, and phone number (you can choose to just put down your city if you don’t want to enter your whole address) at the top of the letter or at the top left hand side
2.    The date 
3.    The name of the Manager or HR Manager or Hiring Manager at the top left corner followed by the company’s name and address. 

Consisting of 3-4 paragraphs no longer than ¾ to 1 page long, cover letters discuss…

1.    An opening that goes into who you are, how you heard about the position, and what position you’re applying for 
2.    How your background and skills make you qualified for this position
3.    A closing in which you relate to the company and how you would fit in well there 

Not too painful, right? Here’s a sample of a cover letter for someone looking to go into public accounting. We’ve included our commentary in italics: 

John Smith
San Francisco, CA

May 12, 2015

Jim Hobart
SC&DP Accounting Firm
451 Market Street
San Francisco, CA 

Dear Jim, 

I am writing to express my interest in the Tax Accountant position being offered at SC&DP Accounting Firm through LinkedIn. As a former Corporate Banker with over five years’ experience and my CPA license, I believe I would be a valuable asset to your firm. 

In this opening paragraph, John clearly states what position he’s applying to, where he saw the job ad, and how he feels he will be a good candidate to be considered. 

A highly organized and self-driven individual, my passion for the field of Accounting started in my diverse financial positions with multiple companies. As I maintained financial records, managed budgets, risk assessments, as well as business strategy reviews, I have gained valuable insight within the industry that not only allowed me to help others reach their financial goals, but also be at the forefront of protecting my client’s financial integrities. 

In this second paragraph, John talks about where his passion for accounting comes from and gives a general overview of how his past experience has prepared him for the field. 

In my current position as a Financial Analyst with Stanley Cooper Partners, I lead a team of 7, executing commercial processes and gaining a specialist’s understanding of financial instruments as well as accounting software that resulted in a more efficient workflow for company protocol. This also increased productivity and lead to my promotion to Sr. Financial Analyst within a year’s time at the company. 

In this third paragraph, John goes into his current position, including what his job duties entail and how they have further helped prepare him for success. This paragraph also describes his ability to manage, take initiative, and what a valuable asset he is to the company.

As a recently licensed Certified Public Accountant, I feel that my background in tandem with my accomplished communication skills, dedication to excellence, and proactive personality is aligned to what SC&DP is looking for in a Tax Accountant. I admire your company’s mission to help small and medium sized businesses grow to continue to impact their local communities and economies. I hope to contribute to this mission as I am also a firm advocate of helping local businesses thrive. 

Lastly, John talks about his CPA certification. And, as we all know, having a CPA speaks volumes to a candidate’s dedication to hard work. Furthermore, toward the end, he relates his admiration for the company’s mission and how it aligns to his own beliefs.   

Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing back from you.

John Smith

At the closing of his cover letter, John includes a nice little sentence that thanks the reader for their time and reiterates his enthusiasm for the position by stating that he hopes to hear back from them. 

As you can see, the cover letter is detailed and thorough. This is a pretty generic one, so feel free to craft your cover letter according to your own personality and style, especially when you talk about how your passion for the industry developed and what you’ve done to follow that passion. In rare instances, some companies will ask you to craft a cover letter with specific guidelines that are either in or outside of the box. And by in the box, we mean providing specific questions they want answered. And by out of the box, we mean those job descriptions that say “Send us a cover letter. We want to learn more about you. Give us something that will really capture our attention,” in which case the creative juices are open and up to you!

One last word of advice: PROOFREAD! We’ve spoken with employers who have actually turned candidates away due to incorrect spelling or grammar usage. Meticulously proofread your work 3 or 4 times to ensure that everything is spelled correctly and nothing impedes the cohesion of your cover letter. This is just good personal and professional practice, so make it a habit! 

We hope these tips and examples serve as a helpful guide for your next cover letter writing session and that you include one in every professional opportunity application you submit! 

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