Cover letters are what help employers decide whether or not to take a look at your resume. You want your letter to stand out so that you have a shot at your next career.

So many job seekers put all their efforts into their resumes without giving thought to their cover letters. But with a poorly written cover letter, human resource managers won’t even glance at your resume, so it’s important to make sure you draw people in through your cover letter.

What to Include

You can start with a great cover letter template, but you will need to customize it for each and every job you apply for. The letter should give highlights of your skills, without repeating what’s on your resume. Pick out the features you’re most proud of that relate to this particular job. That might include:

  • Past job experience
  • Training or education
  • Specific examples of doing similar work
  • Languages spoken

You’ll also want to show you know a bit about the company you’re applying to work for. Do a bit of investigating (start with the company’s site) to find out what the company does, and what its mission statement is. Then include a sentence in your cover letter that relates your understanding. Here’s an example:

I know that AB Company looks for highly innovative people who can aid in its mission to bring the offline shopping experience online, and to that effect, my technology and business skills are appropriate for the role of Project Manager.

This is your opportunity to toot your own horn, so don’t be afraid to do so. Both in your resume and your cover letter, you should focus on metrics rather than generics, so rather than saying you increased sales at your last job, say, “I successfully increased online purchases by 210% in just 6 months.” This gives the hiring manager a better sense of your capabilities, and shows that you’re not just throwing generalities around.

Getting into the Details

Your cover letter shouldn’t be excessively long: stick to four paragraphs or less. Anything more can be addressed if and when you get a job interview. Avoid starting your letter with “To Whom It May Concern.” Do a little digging to see who you’re sending the letter to. Sometimes the job description will list the hiring manager’s name. Address it to this person, or use something like “Dear Hiring Manager.”

You can include your resume highlights in paragraph form, or break them out into bullets for easy reading. Always use the traditional business letter setup for your cover letter, and include your contact information. And don’t forget to enclose or attach your resume!

Where to Find Jobs

While there are still jobs posted in your local newspaper, more and more jobs are found online. Sites like CareerBuilder, Craigslist and Monster allow companies to post jobs. The job sites let you as an applicant store your resume and cover letter. This can be useful, but always remember to customize your cover letter each time! There’s nothing worse than an employer reading a cover letter that was clearly written for another employer at another company! You look unprofessional and are immediately discounted for the job, even if you were perfect for it.

After You Send Your Letter

Make sure to reference the job title and/or job reference code in your letter. A week or two after you send the letter or email, follow up to ensure it was received. At this point you can ask when the company expects to schedule interviews. This can give you an idea of whether or not you’re in the running.