Writing Cover Letters That Make the Grade

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Your resume doesn't do all the talking when you're trying to convince potential employers to interview you. A recent nationwide survey commissioned by Accountemps found that 60 percent of executives believe the cover letter is either as important as or more critical than the resume. Here are some cover letter tips:

Use a standard business letter format and address the letter to a specific individual. You should be able to get the appropriate name and title from the company's receptionist, a human resources specialist or the administrative assistant for the department to which you're applying.

Avoid "clever" and "cute". Your cover letter should be businesslike - simply explain why you're writing and why the reader should be interested in you. For example: "I am applying for the staff accountant position that was advertised in the Daily News and would like to tell you about my qualifications," or "I am writing to you at the suggestion of John Doe, who told me you may be looking for an entry-level staff accountant."

Explain your current situation. Include your graduation date and availability - for example, immediately or after completion of your internship.

Explain why this job interests you. Let potential employers know what you have to offer in the way of relevant skills, knowledge and experience. Also, research prospective employers and work your findings into your cover letter: for example, "I recently completed an internship with ABC Company, where I gained a foundation in international accounting by supporting the financial team handling the firm's expansion into Asia - skills that would be particularly helpful to your organization in light of your recent move into this market." This shows your genuine interest in the job as well as your initiative.

To highlight your resume, briefly elaborate on one or two of its key points. For example: "I served two terms as president of Local University's Student Accounting Group, where my responsibilities ranged from overhauling the organization's dues structure to representing our members in key meetings with faculty and other university leadership." Don't rehash your resume. The cover letter should generate interest in the resume, but not reiterate the same points.

Ask someone else to review your cover letter. Your computer's spelling and grammar checkers are not enough - thoroughly proofread for any typos, poor grammar or spelling mistakes, and ask another person to do the same.

The resume is your entry to the world of work. It creates your first impression with potential employers. Sending out a poorly organized resume is kind of like wearing jeans to a job interview with a Big Five accounting firm. It sends the wrong message entirely. Remember, a good resume can't get you a job, but a bad one can prevent you from getting your foot in the door.

Article courtesy of Accountemps, which has more than 240 offices in North America, Europe and Australia, and offers online job search services.

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