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5 Tips for Writing an Effective Cover Letter

Success Is in the Details




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The Issue

You've decided to look for a new teaching or administrative job. You need new challenges, more money or simply want to further your career. Problem is that you haven't looked for a new job in years. You know that you have to update your resume and begin the job search. But what else is involved in this process?

For starters, finding a job in a private school is not like finding a job in any other field. It's all delightfully old-fashioned and un-electronic. What am I talking about? If I were looking for a sales job, I would post my resume on Monster.com or some other online jobs board. To find a private school job, you need to review the postings on a school's website or on one of the national or regional private school association websites. Then apply the old-fashioned way. That means with a well-written cover letter and a resume.

You need an effective cover letter.

Your resume can be very impressive. But if your cover letter isn't equally impressive, it's entirely possible that your resume will never get read. First impressions are lasting impressions. Most people spend about twenty seconds reading a cover letter, so it has to make your case clearly and effectively.

How do you write an effective cover letter?

Go to Job Search and read the Resume and Cover Letter Guide. Job Search Guide Alison Doyle also has an email course on writing cover letters. Subscribe to it. Even if you think you know what you are doing, it pays to keep your cover letter writing skills current.

Here are five tips for writing an effective cover letter.

1. Be brief and to the point.

Most of the time a cover letter for a job application only has to state that you are applying for a position and that the application and supporting materials are enclosed. That's it.

2. Make no mistake about it.

The most important caveat in a cover letter? Make no mistake about it. Absolutely no errors. Your cover letter must be perfection itself. A typo, a poor printing job, a misspelling - mistakes will make a poor impression because they imply that you don't care.

3. Use a word processor.

Never hand write a cover letter. Never. Prepare your cover letter on a computer using MicroSoft Word. Don't have a computer? Borrow a friend's or go to a business center and rent one for an hour or two.

4. Avoid fancy fonts and colors.

You are not creating a flyer or a poster. So use a business font such as Arial. No colors. Black on white reproduces easily. Use a plain white paper. No deckled finishes or colors either. Print your cover letter and resume on a laser printer. DeskJet printer ink smudges.

5. Keep it short.

Your cover letter should be one page in length and perfectly centered. The cover letter and resume are never folded. They are placed in an envelope large enough to accommodate them unfolded.

Using Templates

There are literally hundreds of cover letter templates available online. While it may be tempting to just cut and paste one you happen to like, don't do it. That's dishonest and conveys the wrong impression about your ethics and judgment. Always write the cover letter in your own words.

Print your cover letter on one sheet of plain paper. Do not fold it. Paper clip it to your resume and supporting materials. Place it in a large envelope with no folding whatsover.

Tip: Your cover letter must be perfectly centered and printed on plain white paper. Use black ink. No colors.

Sample Cover Letter

123 Pine Street
Raleigh, NC 27603

May 2, 2008

Dr. Ralph Smithers
St. Swithin's School
2 Shady Drive
Fernville, SC 29305

Dear Dr. Smithers,

Please find enclosed my application and supporting materials for the position of English Teacher at St. Swithin's School.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours truly,

Magda Smith-Jones

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