The difference between a good cover letter and a bad one is in the result: Did you get an interview? Writing a well-crafted cover letter will help you get your foot in the door at an employer and provides your first impression.

Here’s how to write a cover letter that will land you a job interview and start you on the path to landing that job:

1. Open strong.

You want to catch the employer’s attention and the first step to doing that is making sure the letter is addressed to the right person. If there’s no name in the ad, pick up the phone and call the company to find out who is reviewing the cover letters and resumes coming in. “To Whom It May Concern” is a boring, lazy way to start off any letter.

Now that you have a name, make your first sentence strong. You can either pose a question, such as, “How could your business benefit from a strong self-starter?” Or, you could make an eye-catching statement. Make sure you make some reference to the company that shows you did your research and aren’t just applying to every single ad you find (even if you are).

2. Sell yourself.

Use the letter’s second, third and even fourth paragraphs (if necessary) to discuss how your experience, skills, and education match the needs of the company. Take it up a notch and talk about how your experience in customer service, for example, will help the business improve its sales numbers. The cover letter needs to focus on how you can help the hiring company. The hiring manager doesn’t care if you are great at sales, but if you relate how your sale skills will help the business, you’ve made a connection.

3. End strongly.

Your cover letter should only be one page. You want to leave readers wanting to know more so they pick up the phone and call. After the strong introduction and then a couple of paragraphs detailing how your skills and experience will help the company, end with a strong summary paragraph and a call to action—to contact you for an interview. Be bold in this final paragraph, writing that you’re the right person for the job and the reader can learn more by checking out your attached resume or giving you a call. Don’t be wishy-washy—ask for an interview! And always thank the reader for taking the time to read your letter.

4. Incorporate key words.

Throughout the letter, look to integrate some of the wording from the original ad. If it says the business is seeking a dynamic team player, use both words in your letter and then describe how you are dynamic or a team player. Hiring managers pore through piles of cover letters and by using their own words in your letter, you’ll definitely draw attention.

5. Don’t go generic.

For every job you apply for, create a new and unique cover letter. Don’t create a “form” letter that goes out to everyone. Since every advertisement is different, so should be every response. Remember, you want to use certain words and phrases from the advertisement in your letter. Yes, you can use a few of the same sentences in every letter you send out, but don’t go overboard. Be specific—use the company’s name in the letter, not just “your business” or “your company.” And if you can include a sentence or two about how your skills will help the organization’s mission, be sure to spell that exactly out. It shows you took time to investigate the company a bit and are driven.

6. One last check.

Don’t rush through a cover letter. Make sure it’s personalized to the company and always read through it several times before sending it out. If possible, have someone else read it, too. Read through this formal letter check list to make sure you’ve dotted all the ‘i’s and crossed all your ‘t’s. Look out for spelling and grammar errors and anything else that might send a negative vibe to the receiver. Remember, you only get one chance to make a first impression.

Now you know how to write a cover letter. If you have the chance to be interviewed, get prepared with these questions: Ten Questions to Ask in an Interview to Get Hired

Featured photo credit: Unemployment. Picture of tools for looking for job when on unemployment. via Shutterstock

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