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To Whom should I address my cover letter?

SampleCoverLetter_crop380wJennifer from the University of Texas at Arlington asked:

I am applying for a job that requires a cover letter. I already have a cover letter but I am unsure to whom I should address it. I have looked on the company’s website for the name of a person, but I cannot find one. Who would I address my letter to in this scenario? 

Hi Jennifer –

So many people make huge mistakes when writing cover letters. I will answer your question and offer you some advice.

Never send a resume without a cover letter

Let me repeat that!  Never send a resume without a cover letter, because when you do, you miss a valuable opportunity to market yourself. Your resume should provide a focused summary of what you offer employers, in general. Your cover letter should present a focused summary of how what you offer matches what the employer is seeking. If the ability to write well is important for the job you are seeking, demonstrate your ability to write well by crafting a well reasoned, well written cover letter.  You miss a valuable opportunity to market yourself when you do not send a cover letter. Don’t miss that opportunity.

Every cover letter should be customized

A “one size fits all” cover letter is not actually a cover letter.  It is junk mail.  Generic cover letters say: “I care so little about this job opportunity, that I am sending you the exact same cover letter I sent to 200 other potential employers. Don’t you feel special?”  A well written, customized cover letter will set you apart from other candidates.  A generic cover letters says “I’m no different from anyone else.”    Which response do you want?

Use your cover letter to show how what you offer matches what the employers is seeking

Read the position description of the job for which you are applying.  What qualifications are they seeking?  Of those qualifications, which ones do you possess?  Use your cover letter to connect those dots!  Make it easy for employers to see just how strong a candidate you are.  Don’t claim you are “the perfect candidate for the job” and ask them to take your word for it.  Back up your claim with examples of your relevant qualifications.  Give them reasons to interview you.

If you can’t find a name, lose the salutation.

I do not like “Dear Sir/Madam,” “To Whom it may concern,” and “Dear Hiring Manager” as salutations.

When you can find the name, title and contact information for the hiring manager, definitely include it. When you cannot, consider a simple “subject” or “regarding” line at the start of your cover letter.  

For example:

RE:  Application for Bookkeeper Posting (Job #345467) with ABC Company

or

Subject: Account Executive Opening with Armstrong Holding Company LLC (Posting #98763)

In both instances, you are placing your cover letter into a specific context.  They know why you are writing.

If you are applying via email, your email message will already have a “Subject” line.  Use it to set the context and begin with the first paragraph of your cover letter in the body of the email.

For additional advice on cover letters and thank you letters, I encourage you to download my guide to writing cover letters and thank you letters.

Good luck,

matt-signature

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When is the right time for a college senior to start looking for a job?

starting blocksMatt from Seminole State University asked:

Like many of my fellow May 2014 graduates, I am hoping to have a position lined up when I graduate. I am completing a B.S. in Construction Management.  When is the best time to apply for a full time position before I graduate? Also, how do I indicate in a cover letter that I won’t be available for a full time position until after graduation?

Hi Matt –

A lot of students have these same questions.  Your first question has a variety of answers; the second is pretty straightforward.

When should you start looking for a job?

The shorthand answer:  When you are in a position to say “yes” if you are offered the job?

Companies recruit in different ways and on different time frames for different types of positions.  So, your timing depends upon the kinds of work and the types of employers you are targeting.

If you are targeting corporate employment (the kinds of jobs that dominate on-campus interviewing schedules on college campuses), they you should start actively applying in September and October because that is when those employers are recruiting to fill those kinds of positions.  When large corporations are setting targets for their entry-level hiring for the year, they plan months in advance because they can.  Smaller organizations do not have that flexibility.

In most cases, employers hire when they have immediate vacancies to fill, and they try to fill these vacancies as quickly as possible; that usually means within 4-8 weeks of the position being posted.  They have an immediate need, and they need candidates who can start in the immediate future – not 6-8 months later, after they graduate.

Look at the industries you are targeting.  How do employers hire in these industries?  Do they recruit entry-level candidates and make offers well in advance or do they hire “just-in-time” to meet their needs?

Some employers have the latitude to recruit candidates in the fall for jobs that will not start until the following summer. If these are the employers you are targeting, your job search should have started already.

Most employers hire when they have positions to fill and look for candidates who can say “yes” and start soon thereafter. If this is your case, your job search should really start picking up steam about 6-8 weeks before you graduate.

How do I indicate in a cover letter that I won’t be available for a full time position until after graduation?

Easy!

In presenting your qualifications in cover letters. state clearly when you will complete your degree and be available for full-time employment.  Statements like the following:

In May 2014, I will complete a Bachelor’s degree in Construction Management and will be available for full-time employment beginning June 2, 2014.

or

I am available immediately to interview in-person, via phone or via Skype.  I will graduate in May and can start work at any time after May 23rd.

or

As I am currently completing my degree requirements, I am available immediately for part-time/contract work and can begin full-time employment starting June 2, 2014.

These are just a few examples of how you might address the “availability” issue in cover letters.  Be honest and take the opportunity to tell employers when you are available to interview and begin work.

Good Luck,

matt-signature

65 “Ask the Coach” Answers from The Campus Career Coach

Do you have a question for the Coach?

The following questions have been addressed by The Campus Career Coach during the 2012-13 Academic Year.  If you have a question, just “Ask The Coach” and look for the response on this blog!

Are there any jobs where you can work from home?

Are there jobs in Omaha related to lobbying?atc

Can I afford my current lifestyle?

Can I get a job with a 2.2 GPA?

Can you recommend trusted sites for salary information?

Do career centers verify the legitimacy of employers that post jobs to their systems?

Does my resume need an Objective statement?

Does studying abroad give you an edge in the job market?

Getting Your Foot in the Door with the Southwestern Advantage Company

How can an international student find a job in the US?

How can an international student find a job in the US?

How can I build up my managerial skills?

How can I find an internship when I’m not enrolled in school?

How can I find an internship/co-op that matches my skill set?

How can I get a job in my career field with a degree but no experience?

How can I get experience in a new field when I work full-time and go to school?

How can I get into consulting after a military career?

How can I get paid experience when no one will give me an opportunity?

How can I prepare an Applicant Tracking System-friendly resume?

How can I pursue a career in homeland security and cyber intelligence?

How do I improve the appearance of my resume?

How do I pursue a career in sales when my degree is in political science?

How do I show my education from another country on my US resume?

How do I write a resume when my skill set is very diverse?

How do you pursue a long distance job search?

How does an older job seeker get his foot in the door in web development?

How important is establishing an online presence when I’m looking for a new job?

How should I address my military experience on my resume?

How should I format my resume so I don’t come across as a “job hopper”?

How should I respond when asked for my salary requirements?

How should I show transitional employment on my resume?

I am frustrated with my job search. Can you provide insight or new ideas to consider?

I don’t know what I want to do or what I’m qualified to do. What do you suggest?

I have no relevant experience; how can I make my resume attractive to potential recruiters?

I need help with my resume. Where do I start?

I’m a senior – is it too late for me to do an internship?

I’m ready to re-enter the workforce – where do I start?

Is a Master’s degree necessary in today’s job market?

Is it time to leave a job I love to advance my career?

Is this job posting real or fraudulent?

It’s good to be selective – it’s bad to be picky

Should accomplishment statements on a resume be stated with bullets or in paragraph form?

Should my resume have an Objective Statement?

Six Questions to Frame Your New Year’s Resolutions

What are you going to do with that graduate degree?

What can I do with a BA in English and a desire to write?

What can I do with a Bachelor’s in Liberal Studies?

What can I do with a degree in University Studies?

What can I do with a Psychology degree? Should I get a graduate degree overseas?

What is the best way for a “first timer” to look for a job?

What is the proper attire when attending a career fair?

What is the starting pay for an entry level laboratory testing engineer?

What jobs can I get with a Psychology degree and Spanish/Business minors?

What kind of jobs can a History major really look into?

What kind of on-campus job should I get?

What should I do next? I am at crossroads early in my career and I have a lot of questions

What should I highlight on my resume – my unrelated work experience or my related classroom experience?

What should I include in a cover letter?

What should I major in?

When is the right time to follow up with an employer after an interview?

When should I ask for a promotion?

Where can I get help writing my resume?

Where does my job flipping burgers fit on my resume?

Will getting an MBA help me advance in my field?

With 20+ years until retirement, what should I do next?

What should I include in a cover letter?

Jacque from Wright State University asked:

I really need help writing a cover letter. I understand that I should write a different cover letter for each individual potential job, but is there a general idea for cover letters I should follow?

Hi Jacque –

This is a really important question.  Most people overlook the importance of cover letters and, as a result, miss out on a great opportunity to market themselves to employers.

Following is my recommended formula/structure for building cover letters.

COVER LETTER STRUCTURE: Good cover letters are focused marketing letters that present what is relevant.

Use the following as a guide for writing cover letters that market what you offer in terms relevant to the hiring employer:

Opening Salutation

Part One:  First Paragraph – State your Case! (tell them why you are writing): State the purpose and nature of your inquiry.

Part Two: Body Paragraph(s) – Defend your Case! (tell them why they should care you are applying): –Tell them how what you offer/seek matches with what they offer/seek

Part Three: Last Paragraph – ◦Close your Case! (Set context for next steps and close): –Wrap it up/Summarize. –Suggest/hint toward next steps in the process

Closing Salutation

I also recommend you review my recent post-  How to write an effective cover letter and download our Cover Letter and Thank You Letter Guide.

Hope this helps,

PS – Be sure to PROOFREAD your cover letters.  Don’t let a typo be your downfall!

How to write an effective cover letter

I read a lot of cover letters and most of them are pretty bad.  This is unfortunate because, in most instances, cover letters are pretty important and a bad cover letter equals a missed opportunity to market yourself to an employer.  So, why do so many people write so many bad cover letters?  Consider the following . . .

Four things good cover letters can do:

  • —Get the employer to read your resume
  • —Demonstrate your ability to write persuasively
  • —Illustrate how your qualifications align with those in the position description
  • —Establish you as a viable candidate for the job for which you are applying

Four things to keep in mind when writing cover letters:

  • —Each cover letter should be unique (though some content may be similar)
  • —You cannot write an effective cover letter without reading the position description first
  • —The content of your cover letter should be consistent with the content of your resume; not identical to it
  • —The writing style of your cover letter should be your own

The Harsh Reality:  Most cover letters are generic “junk mail” that read like form letters.

What do you do with junk mail? You throw it away.  

If the following sounds like the cover letters you write, you shouldn’t be surprised employers aren’t calling you to schedule an interview:

Opening Salutation

Part One:  First Paragraph – The introduction: I am applying for this job because I am the perfect candidate.

Part Two: Body Paragraph(s) – The main emphasis:  Let me tell you 10,000 wonderful (but random) things about me that have nothing directly to do with the job for which I am applying.  Honestly, I haven’t even read the job description, and I’ve already sent this exact same cover letter to 200 other employers.

Part Three: Last Paragraph – The close: That’s why I am the perfect candidate for the job.  Here’s my resume.  I expect you to call because you should be able to see how good a candidate I am.

Closing Salutation

The Opportunity: Good cover letters are focused marketing letters that present what is relevant.

Use the following as a guide for writing cover letters that market what you offer in terms relevant to the hiring employer:

Opening Salutation

Part One:  First Paragraph – State your Case! (tell them why you are writing): State the purpose and nature of your inquiry.

Part Two: Body Paragraph(s) – Defend your Case! (tell them why they should care you are applying): –Tell them how what you offer/seek matches with what they offer/seek

Part Three: Last Paragraph – ◦Close your Case! (Set context for next steps and close): –Wrap it up/Summarize. –Suggest/hint toward next steps in the process

Closing Salutation

The Caveat: This advice does not apply to everyone equally.

I admit – not all jobs require candidates with strong written communication skills; in some instances, what really matters is your ability to write code, process data, engineer technology, etc.  If you are pursuing a career in a field where your communication skills are not really all that important, your ability to communicate effectively won’t be all that important either, so your ability to write persuasive cover letters won’t be all that important.

For most of us, however, the ability to write and speak persuasively is critically important to our career success.  So – if you think you are a good writer . . .  prove it by writing good cover letters.

Want a few more tips?  Check out our Cover Letter Guide.