As the saying goes, first impressions are lasting. This is especially so in a job market where the competition is heavier and more varied than ever before. In an age where digital communication rules, the temptation is high to avoid writing a cover letter altogether.
Writing cover letters has always been one of the most challenging aspects of job seeking. Generally speaking, resumes tend to flow more easily because they are a factual listing of all the places you've worked and an overview of your specific job responsibilities. It’s also relatively easy to enlist the help of a friend or freelancer to create and format an effective and professional-looking resume. This is not so much the case with a cover letter.
Cover letters should be much more specific and personal than a resume. Companies are not looking for an extended bio in your cover letter — it’s actually a way for them to get more of a sense of who you are as a person and what value you believe you can add to their business. It’s also a way to demonstrate a clear understanding of what the company does and what makes it interesting to you as a person and a job seeker.
Sometimes it’s the little things that stand out, and in writing cover letters, you’re adding a small step to the application process that has the possibility of making a big impact in terms of creating a strong first impression. To that end, it’s crucial to ensure that your cover letter contains not just good content but proper formatting as well. Technology and the Internet give us so many tools to make writing, editing and formatting much easier tasks than they used to be, so there’s really no excuse for an improperly formatted cover letter. Some websites advise using specific styles, spacing and margin settings for cover letters, and by simply toggling the “Show Formatting” button in Microsoft Word and other word processing programs, you can ensure that your format follows the suggested guidelines. In most cases, the “Show Formatting” button looks like a backwards capital “P”.
Seeing formatting symbols throughout your letter can be helpful during the editing process and can keep you from making simple grammatical errors that are often easy to miss. Having a well-written, organized and properly formatted cover letter is not to be underestimated. Prospective employers, who might be inundated with interviewing lots of candidates, will often look to the small details in order to help push certain people ahead of the competition.
One of the most important reasons to have a well-formatted cover letter, is that all formatting is not created equal across software programs. You may type your letter using one program but the person reading it may use a different one. This can be disastrous for your cover letter. The new program may change the way words appear. It's awful to have hard work sabotaged by things like incorrect fonts, misplaced returns or blank spaces.
(Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net)