2014-01-26T18:53:00Z CoverlettersBy Christine Bryant Times Correspondent
January 26, 2014 6:53 pm  • 

It may be one of the more painful aspects of applying for a job - the dreaded cover letter.

Writing a cover letter may be taxing, but it's one of the most important ways to capture the attention of an employer.

"Remember, this is your first chance to make an impression in most cases," said Joe Frank, communications director for Workforce Development.

Here's what you need to know when sitting down to write a cover letter.

Keep it short

Highlight relevant skills related to the job description that makes you an ideal candidate, said Sharese Dudley, director of Career Services at Indiana University Northwest.

Refrain from recapping your work history, however, said Tonya Fight, human resources specialist at Advocate South Suburban Hospital.

"No need to recap employment history in the letter, as that is what resumes are for," she said. "The cover letter should highlight the person's skill set in relation to the position."

Frank said if a letter fills an entire page, it's too long.

"Cover letters should be a brief introduction to your resume and should state your intentions with your job search," he said.

Do your homework

Avoid using phrases like "Dear sir/madam" and "To whom it may concern," Frank said.

"Find out who is in charge of the department to which you are applying," he said.

If you're unable to find a name for the head of the department, Frank said to use "To the creative director at (company name."

Avoid extreme self-promotion

Extreme acts of self-promotion can turn an employer off, Fight said.

"At worst, it can turn a recruiter off by seeming to be all flash with little perceived substance," she said.

At best, a recruiter may get hung up on the language, causing the cover letter to get lost in the shuffle, she said.

Make it stand out

If you were referred by another employee or board member of the company, mention it in the cover letter, Dudley said.

And don't forget the basics, Frank said.

"Employers are looking through many cover letters, so make sure to make yours stand out in the right way," he said. "Make it personal, concise and grammatically correct."

Not sure if you've caught any errors? Fight suggests having someone proofread the cover letter and resume.

"Some recruiters absolutely will throw out any letter or resume with typos," she said.

Avoid the standard

Most recruiters will say an applicant should not have a standard cover letter, Fight said.

"Each letter should be tailored for each position," she said. "This fact can help you really focus on including the best possible content - the information that fits what specific recruiters are looking for in filling a specific position. You don't want it to come across as if this is just one of a dozen letters and resumes you mass-mailed that day."

Be ready for a call

If you write in your cover letter you are available via phone, be ready for a call, Frank said.

"You can do this by keeping a list of companies and individuals you sent your cover letter to," he said.

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