Career Resources

Career Resources

10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Cover Letter

Posted June 3, 2013 & filed under Job Search, Resume

10 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Writing a Cover Letter

A cover letter’s sole purpose is to tell a potential employer as much about yourself in as few words as possible. It must be terse, informative, and appealing to a hiring manager’s eye. Sounds easy right? Unfortunately too many job seekers fall into the trap of simply regurgitating some of the material that is already present in their resume. This is a quick and surefire way to lose the interest of any hiring manager. So what should a cover letter contain, and how should you go about writing it?

Know yourself

When was the last time you reflected on why you entered a particular field, how you ended up working for your last employer, or where you want to be in the future? Hiring managers want to see more out of a cover letter than, “this field really interests me,” or “I’ve wanted to be an engineer since I was a child.” Your cover letter is the time to tell a company why they should even bother investing the time via an interview to learn more about you. Use it well.

The 5 W’s (and that leftover H)

Structure is the basis of any good piece of writing. Organizing and gathering information should take up at least half of the time you spend writing anything. Use this time to think about what it is you want to convey? Get to know yourself. What is the best way to prepare a cover letter? Use the 5 W’s.

If you have ever taken a course on journalism, or had to speak about current events, you probably have heard of the Who, What, When, Where, Why, and How of articles. They explain everything about a particular piece of writing.

Whether you are seeking an entry level position, were recently laid off, or are looking to move on to a better opportunity, ask yourself these 10 questions not only as a means of self-reflection but as a means of laying a foundation for your cover letter.

1. Who is this letter for?

Knowing your audience is the key to successful writing. It always helps to find out who will be reading your letter. The more you know about your audience, the better suited you will be to write something that will be attractive to them.

2. What do I know about this company?

Spend some time researching the company and tailor your cover letter specifically for them. The more you know about the company’s history and direction, the better you will be able to explain how you can help them get there.

3. What type of job am I looking for?

An objective is a good way to start off your cover letter. Why are you applying to a position with this particular company? What interests you about the position? Show some interest in actually taking on the tasks that will be assigned to you rather than seeming like you just want any old job.

4. What skills do I possess that relate to this job?

What good would a cover letter be without informing the hiring manager of what your qualifications are? This isn’t the time to simply list programs and certifications that you are trained in. Know what will be asked of you in this position and elaborate on how your skills make you the best candidate for the job.

5. What have I done to help my previous employers reach their goals?

What were your major accomplishments at your last job? Surely you didn’t just slide through work every day merely doing your job. Your cover letter should brag – humbly – about how you were successful in any of your previous positions.

6. What will I do to make this company reach its goals?

Immediately following your assessment of your prior, and relevant, work experience you should follow up with how you will be able to take this company into the future. What can you do to make sure they reach their goals, and tie in how your skills and past experiences can help them get there?

7. Where do I hope to end up in the future?

All companies want to know what your future plans are. It helps them determine how long you plan on staying with the company and whether or not it will be worth investing their time and resources into you. Knowing where you want to end up in the future will help you answer this next question as well.

8. How will this position help me get there?

Make sure you include how this job plays into your future. If you want to move up within the company and eventually reach management, tell them. If you want to one day run the show as an executive, your cover letter is the perfect time to show the hiring manager that you are motivated to reach your goals (and by extension, those of the company).

9. When did I realize that this is the career for me?

Your cover letter should tell a brief, but unique story as to why you want to do this kind of work. Why is this what you want to do and when did you realize that this was the best line of work for you? This allows employers a rare glimpse at what motivates you to succeed while setting you apart from the rest.

10. Why this company?

Hiring managers want to know why you have chosen this company to apply to. What exactly is it about the company that is attractive to you? What projects are they working on that you want to be a part of? Finish your cover letter by assuring the company that this really is the place you see yourself working in the future.

By Kevin Withers

Image courtesy of Orin Zebest via Flickr