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Career Q&A: Tips for writing an effective cover letter

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I'm having a hard time writing my cover letter. I'm stumped before I even start typing. Do you have any ideas that might make this process a little easier for me?

Writers block is a recurring theme that I see with many would-be cover letter writers. You're not alone. Your problem may be that you're trying to put the cart before the horse. By that I mean that you may not in fact be at a point where you're ready to even start writing your cover letter. Consider the following questions. Once you can answer each one of them, you'll be in a much better position to write a great letter.

1. Why are you writing the cover letter? This may seem like a very obvious question, but you'd be surprised to know how many people can't answer it. What are your objectives for the cover letter that you're writing? Are you hoping for an interview? Are you hoping for a short phone call? When you understand why you're writing your cover letter, you'll begin to shape your ideas accordingly.

2. What does the organization or potential hiring manager need? Do you understand what you're applying for? Do you know what requirements the organization has? Try to make a short list of the things that the potential employer is looking for. It will help you to tailor your cover letter and resumé so that it's applicable to them.

3. Why would the organization want to hear from you? What skills or experience do you bring to the table that the hiring manager or organization needs? A lot of people feel that they should write an inventory of all of their skills and abilities, and hope that the hiring manager will weed for them and figure out which ones he/she can use. That's not a successful approach. Spell it out for them. Let them know specifically what skills you bring with you, Look at the list you made from question two, and write out your corresponding skills and abilities that address these points directly.

4. Do you have any achievements that they should hear about? Try to write down two to four work achievements or accomplishments from your past that relate to the position that you're applying for. This will back up the claims that you made about your skills, and demonstrates that you're a suitable applicant. The easier that you make it for them to see why you're a good candidate, the more likely they are to give you a call.

5. Why are you interested in this organization? Have you researched this organization at all? What is it that interests you in working for them? Showing enthusiasm and interest is a good thing when applying to an organization. If you do your research and you find out that their culture and business dealings aren't a good match for you, you probably don't want to be working there anyways.

Before you take another crack at writing your next cover letter, take a few minutes to answer each of the questions outlined above. I guarantee that once you take the time to answer these questions, your cover letter writing process will become significantly easier.

Alan Kearns is the Head Coach and the Brand Champion! of CareerJoy. He is one of Canada's foremost experts on all things career. With more than 14 years of experience coaching people through successful career changes, he brings an intimate knowledge of the entire transition process to all of his clients. To contact Alan about paid professional services, e-mail alan@careerjoy.com or visit his web site www.careerjoy.com.

To submit a question for a future column, please e-mail it to careercoach@charityvillage.com. No identifying information will appear in this column.

Disclaimer: Advice and recommendations are based on limited information provided and should be used as a guideline only. Neither the author nor CharityVillage.com make any warranty, express or implied, or assume any legal liability for accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information provided in whole or in part within this article.

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