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Cover Letter Writing Tips

An effective cover letter expresses your personality and captures a busy manager's attention while convincing a prospective employer to give you an interview. Ken Glickman, senior talent manager for Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, concurs. "Personalize it as much as you can, find out the hiring manager and keep it short but sweet – short sentences, short paragraphs and bullet points. It should be easily scanned."

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"To Whom" is Concerning

It's a killer phrase—"To Whom It Concerns" and one you want to avoid. Address a real person in the company, whether a department manager or a human resources manager. Search the company website, read the posting carefully or even call and ask the receptionist. Some companies work hard to conceal the name of the hiring manager for privacy reasons or because of the volume of applications. In this case, Seth Porges, writing for Forbes.com in 2012, recommends leaving off the salutation entirely and diving right into the body of the cover letter.

Research, Research, Research

Get a lot of use out of the company's website, Twitter feeds, Linkedin profiles and Facebook pages. "The most eye-catching thing you can do is include any fact that you know or can uncover about the company itself," Glickman says. "You might have found out in your research that they're opening a new facility. Mention it. Now you are customizing that letter to the company's needs and that is what they really want. They want to see that are thinking about their needs rather than you just getting a job." Communications expert Jodi Glickman, quoted in the Harvard Business Review, says the research can help you tailor your voice to the company. Using specific career and industry keywords spotlights your passion and knowledge for the field.

Earn Those Eyeballs

Grab your reader quickly. Words such as "My name is" or "I'm applying for" are empty and wasted. Porges says to be direct and dynamic and avoid humor and platitudes. "Know thyself, really know what you do well," says Ken Glickman. "My plea is don't belittle anything you've done. Everything should be looked at seriously as a clear example of your success." Glickman said the qualities organizations are looking for really don't have much to do with whether you are doing it on the job. "They're looking for people who take a lot of pride in what they do, people who will go the extra mile to get it done, people who show some ambition in their life and who know what they want to do."

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Putting It Together

Ken Glickman recommends using bulleted points to make your cover letter easy to scan. That makes it simple for hiring managers to pick out what they need. In the electronic world, chances are you're submitting your cover letter in digital form. Save your cover letter as a PDF file, says Porges. It should be in a universal file format that doesn't need a format conversion, which will tempt a hiring manager to skip you over. Proofread your letter carefully, Read it out loud, then ask someone else to do the same.

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