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Cover Letters 101

By Michelle Boon

Posted on February 22, 2021

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When you apply for jobs in Canada, there are often two parts to the application. Your résumé, and your cover letter.

Your résumé is an overview of your experience and skills. Your cover letter is your opportunity to expand on your skills and demonstrate that you are exactly the person for the job.

Companies aren’t just looking for qualified people. They are looking for people who align with the culture and goals of the company.

To convey that you’re perfect for the job, research company values, projects, or recent news. Use this knowledge as the basis of your cover letter. Hiring managers appreciate this level of effort. Additionally, relating your skills to the company makes a stronger argument that you’re right for the job.

Like writing résumés, it’s best to customize each cover letter. In addition to including details about the companies, use key words and phrases from the job description.

This can be time consuming, but it could be the difference between getting an interview and not hearing back at all. This research will also be useful if you are invited for an interview.
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Your cover letter should not exceed one page (unless the job description says otherwise). Use a basic, professional font, such as Arial or Calibri, in a 10- or 12-point size and standard 1-inch margins on all sides. Unless otherwise specified, it is advised that you include your first and last name as well as type of document, in this case, “Cover Letter,” in your file name (for example, FirstName_LastName_CoverLetter). Lastly, save your file as either a Word document (.doc) or a PDF (.pdf). If you are printing your letter, it would be a good idea to use quality paper and ink for better presentation.

Typically, a cover letter includes the following elements:

  • Your name
  • Your email address
  • Your phone number
  • The date
  • Address of the company you are applying to
  • A salutation
  • A demonstration of your qualifications
  • Knowledge of the company
  • A closing statement
  • A closing salutation

Name and contact information

Your name and contact information follow the same rules as your résumé. This information goes at the top of page. Set your name to a slightly larger font, and make sure your email address looks professional.

The address

Next, address your letter. Even if you are not sending your cover letter by mail, it looks more professional to include the address of the company. This information is usually just a Google search away.

Greeting

The greeting on the other hand is a little trickier to research. Whenever possible, avoid using generic greetings, such as “Dear Hiring Manager.” While using this greeting is fine, using the hiring manager’s name makes a better impression.

If this information is not listed in the job description, there are a few ways to find it.

If there is an email address included in the job listing, send them a message asking who to address your cover letter to.

If there is no contact information listed, try LinkedIn. You can search the company on the professional networking site and view their employees. See if you can find anyone with the job title “hiring manager,” “talent acquisition,” or “human resources.” It’s likely that these individuals handle the hiring process at the company, but it’s always good to double check. Send them a message to confirm whom to reference in your letter.

In some cases, you can also message any employee who works at the company. They may not be the ones viewing your application, but they might be able to give you the hiring manager’s name. You may also be able to use this opportunity to make new professional connections. Check out this article on how to network in Canada to learn more about networking.

Introduction

Introduce yourself in the first paragraph. Write two or three sentences about why you are qualified and why you want to work for that company. It can be as simple as stating your job title, the amount of experience you have, and your skills as well as highlighting why you would be an asset for the company.

Here is an example of an introductory paragraph for a position in accounting:

As a highly organized account manager with 3+ years of experience, I hope to bring my attention to detail, computer skills, and superior financial reporting skills to Company XYZ.

Why you’re the best person for the job

Then, in the body paragraphs of your cover letter, relate your work experience to the company. A mistake many people make in their cover letters is focusing exclusively on themselves. Your cover letter should tell the company how your skills would benefit them.

Use your company research and the job description as inspiration. Key words and phrases from the company website and job listing are your best friend. A job listing might ask for a “team player” who “works closely with clients to develop projects.” Write about experiences that closely relate to these elements using specific words from the job description.

When discussing your skills and experience, avoid simply listing your day-to-day responsibilities. Instead, emphasize the impact you made in your previous positions. This can be anything from increasing sales, making a system more efficient, or starting a new club at your school. When possible, quantify your impact with numbers. For example: “I increased sales by 10%.”

These paragraphs vary in content and structure depending on the field and position you apply to. To get an idea of what a cover letter looks like, check out these sample cover letters on Monster.ca.

Closing statements

To finish your cover letter:

1. Sum up your strengths. Remind the reader of your skills and how they would benefit the company. Try not to use too many words and phrases from your body paragraphs. It can be repetitive to read.

2. Be assertive. “I look forward to discussing how I would apply my skills at Company XYZ” shows more confidence than “I hope to hear from you.” It’s a simple way to potentially increase your chances of getting that interview.

3. Be polite. Always thank your reader for their time and consideration. Also, use a professional phrase when signing off, such as “sincerely” or “best regards” instead of “yours” or “cheers.”

Need help? Here are some resources:

If you are having difficulty writing your cover letter, don’t worry. There are many resources to help you write your résumé and cover letter:

This Settle At Work document breaks down the different parts of a cover letter, provides sample cover letters, and includes a checklist of what to include.

Settlement.org also offers a search engine to find services near you. Search “employment resource centre” or “settlement services” to find a help centre in your area. These centres often offer free résumé and cover letter workshops.

Cover letters can be tricky for everyone. Luckily, as a newcomer you have lots of skills to offer to Canadian employers. With some practice and proofreading, you’re sure to get an interview.

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