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If you're responding to a job posting, pay close attention to what the post asks for you to put in the cover letter. Does it require you to name the digital file in a certain way? Should you answer specific questions or address requirements? Make sure that your cover letter complies with any instructions so that your application doesn't get tripped up in any online system or simply ignored by a human because it failed to follow the rules.


Include a greeting, but avoid using "To Whom It May Concern." If you were referred by a professional contact, which is a great advantage, the beginning of the cover letter is also the place to say who recommended you and how you're connected to the person.


As you construct the cover letter, don't simply restate your resume in paragraph form. "It’s not a time to regurgitate everything on your resume. Demonstrate the value and accomplishments you brought to previous employment experiences by using metrics and other measurable proof of success. You need to convince your future bosses that they want you in the job.


If your job history doesn't line up perfectly with the job posting requirements – say, you've spent your career working at nonprofits but you're applying for a corporate job – you can use your cover letter to demonstrate your fit for the job, despite your nontraditional experience. "But, more importantly, the dots should be connected in the resume. "This means you need to customize a resume for corporate roles and any other roles that are different from the typical career progression."


Smart cover letter writers will parrot back some of the language used in the job description to make them sound well-suited for the job, experts say. They will also avoid cover letter pitfalls, such as writing "I'm 'perfect' for this role," which will strike the wrong tone with hiring managers. Your writing should be engaging and lively, with room to detail your connection to the company. But you also want to make sure you're hitting the necessary points in your cover letter – telling your potential future bosses why they should want you in the role and describing how your experience lines up with the requirements of the position.


Before you submit the cover letter, have a professional mentor – someone you can trust with the news that you're job hunting – review the letter and give you feedback. Also make sure to use spellcheck and double-check every name, number and proper noun. The last thing you want is to misspell the name of the person to whom you're addressing the letter. Plus, grammatical mistakes and sloppy writing could get your cover letter quickly "filed" to the trash bin.


Another common mistake that could get your cover letter tossed out? Using the wrong company's name, incorrect job title or including formatting clues, such as a variation in font, which reveal that you've simply copy-and-pasted the text from a previous cover letter or online template. "You've got to spell-check it and proof [your cover letter] for errors.


By Susannah Snider

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