The Cover Letter: The First Piece of Your Employment Portfolio

Not too long ago, I wrote an article about writing a better resume. A resume is one of three documents that make up what I call your Employment Portfolio. The portfolio is you–on paper. You send it to potential new employers when you’re looking for a new position. It includes your cover letter, resume, and references page.

The cover letter really is the first piece of this portfolio. It’s your opportunity to introduce yourself to the hiring manager and ask for an interview. A well-written letter can get you an interview; a poorly written letter can easily get you bumped out of consideration. It’s important to remember that the letter isn’t just about the words on the page, though. It also includes things like formatting and design. Consider these five tips:

Tip #1: Use Block Style

The cover letter, resume, and references page should be formatted using block style. Block style, however, is NOT the default in Microsoft Word, and you’ll need to thus make adjustments to the settings. To set up your formatting correctly, do the following:

  • Set margins to be the same on all four sides, between 0.5” and 1”. Layout tab > Page Setup group > Margins button
  • Set paragraph spacing to 0 pt both before and after. Layout tab > Paragraph group > Spacing
  • Set line spacing to 1.0. Home tab > Paragraph group > Line and Paragraph Spacing button
  • Choose a simple font (e.g. Calibri, Times New Roman, Arial, etc.), size 10, 11, or 12. Home tab > Font group

Beyond the basics of your document setup, block style also includes several other considerations:

  • Start all elements of your letter at the left margin with NO indentation.
  • Leave one blank space (i.e. hit enter twice) between elements/paragraphs.
  • With the exception of the state (e.g. SD), do NOT use abbreviations. Write out all words such as Avenue, Street, North, etc.
  • Remove all hyperlinks that are added automatically. Right-click the hyperlink > Remove hyperlink
  • Use a professional greeting using a title and Mr. or Ms. (e.g. Dear Mr. Smith), and follow it with a colon NOT a comma.
  • Write out the date fully with no ordinals (e.g. June 25, 2023).
  • Leave space (hit enter three-five times) between the word Sincerely and your typed name for a signature. Use a comma after the word Sincerely.
  • Use a personal header at the top of your cover letter, resume, and references page; the three documents must match.

Tip #2: Don’t Use a Template

Why not? Everyone else does…and that means your document will look like everyone else’s. How can you stand out from the competition if you’re just blending in? This is true for your resume and references page as well. Create your own design and formatting with your own unique personal header at the top of each page. Make all documents match.

Tip #3: Write to a Person

Write your cover letter to an actual person and NOT to whom it may concern. If a person’s name isn’t listed in the job posting, do some homework to figure out who would be reviewing resumes. (You may need to actually call the company.) Be sure to double check the spelling of the person’s name.

Tip #4: Include Three Paragraphs–No More, No Less

  • The opening paragraph introduces yourself and identifies the position for which you are applying and where you saw it posted.
  • The middle paragraph shows why you’re the ideal candidate for the position. Do not simply copy things from your resume. Focus instead on your soft skills (e.g. time management, communication, etc.).
  • The final paragraph confidently asks for an interview. Include your phone number and email address right in the text. Make it easy for them to pick up the phone and call you or send you an email. If you want them to call you, give them good times to reach you, and ensure those times fall during the hiring manager’s working hours.

Tip #5: Be Confident

It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? You’d be surprised, though, just how often we use language that completely lacks confidence. Don’t use phrases like I think, I feel, and I believe. Do you feel you’re the best person for the job? Well that’s great, but they want to know you’re the best person for the job. Simply say I am… 

Need some help getting your employment portfolio polished? Contact me today; I’d be glad to lend a hand!

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