While it may not be the most-loved part of the job application process, writing a cover letter has become an indispensable step in getting hired. The majority of job searchers use the same cover letter for all of their applications, but this is a mistake. While it is alright to work from a general template, the best job applicants understand that the cover letter is an opportunity to highlight what a great fit they would be for the position.

1. Study the Job Description

The first step in writing a cover letter should be careful study of the job description. Read through any information provided about the duties of the position and envision what the job will be like day-to-day. Then, do a thought exercise: put yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes. Think about the ideal candidate for the position: what qualities and skills would they possess? What experience would they have? Create a list of the key characteristics of the dream candidate so you can begin thinking about how those characteristics fit in with what you have to offer.

2. Match Your Skills

Once you’ve worked off of the job description to create a profile of a great candidate for the job, think about how your own experience and skills match up with what your potential employer is seeking. As with resumes, show instead of tell, but don’t make your cover letter a simple reiteration of your resume. Think about your accomplishments and other information that isn’t easily communicated in resume format. This is your chance to personalize your application.

3. Writing

Most experts agree that cover letters should be kept short and sweet: try to keep it to three or four paragraphs and don’t go over a page. Generally, the first paragraph should introduce yourself and provide a ‘hook’ to keep the hiring manager reading. The second and, if needed, third paragraph should focus on your candidacy for the job: here is the opportunity to wow them with all those great points you identified in the previous step. This is also your opportunity to briefly explain why you’re interested in the position–but be sure to keep most of the content focused on why the employer should be interested in you.

4. Check it

Once you’ve put the finishing touches on the letter, proofread it closely for any errors–while everyone makes mistakes, you want to be putting your best foot forward at this point. It might help to print the letter out and review a hard copy, or to get a friend with fresh eyes to look it over.

5. Send it Off

Last but not least, consider how you are going to send your cover letter. If you are submitting your application via an online form, make sure that your formatting is plain text so it will be easy to read on the other end. If emailing your resume, make it easy for the hiring manager and paste the letter into the body of your email unless the job posting specifies otherwise. Try to think of the cover letter as an opportunity rather than another hoop to jump through. You’re the ideal candidate for the job. With your skills, experience and personality, you will excel in this position. Let that shine through and back it up with a killer resume and you’ll be preparing for your interview in no time.

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