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cover-letter

The first step to landing the job of your dreams might be getting someone to read your cover letter. Actually, that makes writing a great cover letter the first step, and that means you can’t just fire off some generic document you send to every company with a job posting you’re vaguely interested in. If you’re serious about the opportunity, writes Career Sherpa blogger Hannah Morgan in a terrific U.S. News & World Reports post, you need to prove it. Morgan’s “What You Need to Know About Cover Letters” includes five great tips for grabbing people’s attention and making them want to read all the way to the signature. Read on for a summary of her advice.

1. Kiss “To Whom It May Concern” Goodbye — As Morgan writes, this age-old greeting is beyond passe, and worse still, it shows you didn’t take the time to find the hiring manager’s name. The job description may list the name, and if not, it will likely indicate who the job reports to, and that means you can go on LinkedIn and find the proper contact. Worse comes to worse, Morgan writes, use “Hiring Manager.”

2. Open With a Strong First Sentence — Just as “To whom it may concern” sounds uninspired, “Attached is my resume” doesn’t get someone interested in reading the rest of your cover letter. According to Morgan, you should consider leading with a quote from a recent performance review or even your “value proposition,” a simple statement outlining the work you uniquely do and how it helps companies solve problems. If you know an employee at the company, the first sentence is a good time to drop his or her name.

3. Get to the “Why?” — As in, why do you want to work at this company? Make the case in a sentence or two, but before you write, read some recent press releases about the company and do your homework. What is it you like about this firm, and why would you be such a tremendous fit?

4. Craft a Meaty Second Graf — The second paragraph of the cover letter is where you explain how you meet the job requirements. While “soft skills” like time management and communication skills are important, Morgan says, you should focus here on specifics. Take a close look at the job description and prove you’ve got the technical and/or procedural knowhow to get it done.

5. Close Strong and Simple — At the end of your letter, be sure to thank the reader for his or her time and consideration and restate your interest. You should also outline your next steps, and once you’ve submitted the letter and resume, follow up. Documents sometimes get lost, and it’s important to contact HR to verify everything was received.