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To Whom It May Concern: 5 Expert Tips for Writing a Great Cover Letter

Guest Contributor

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If you were to Google “can I use ‘To Whom It May Concern’ on my cover letter,” you would quickly learn that most websites advise against it. 

For years, career blogs all over the internet have insisted that starting a cover letter with “To Whom It May Concern” is a surefire way to sabotage your job prospects.

But countless job seekers start their cover letters this way — surely they’re not all jobless. How much does this seemingly minor detail really matter to hiring managers and employers?

To find out, Resume Companion conducted a “To Whom It May Concern” survey. They asked over 1,000 hiring managers across the United States to tell them what they think about “To Whom It May Concern,” and whether seeing it on a cover letter actually impacted the way they judged an applicant.

The results were loud and clear: over 83% of respondents stated that seeing “To Whom It May Concern” on a candidate’s cover letter had little or no impact on their hiring decision.

This contradicts what career experts have been insisting for years — that your cover letter must be personalized to the reader if you want to get hired.

To learn more about what recruiters from around the U.S. think, take a look at the full To Whom It May Concern survey to view data broken down by age, location and gender.

With the issue of how to address a cover letter out of the way, here are my Top 5 expert tips on how to write an effective cover letter — more important than ever in today's challenging job market. Share these tips with your job hunting college student or recent graduate!

1. Open with a Strong Introduction

Grab the hiring manager’s attention right from the start by introducing yourself and summarizing your most notable qualifications. A convincing cover letter introduction should include the following:

  • An expression of your enthusiasm about the position
  • The position you want to fill
  • A short summary of your professional background
  • A concise introduction to your key accomplishments and talents

By starting your cover letter off strong, you’ll encourage the hiring manager to read more about your background and qualifications.

2. Personalize the Letter for the Position You Hope to Fill

Include information about how your experience can help you solve the specific problems the company is facing. By identifying ways you can immediately step in and be useful, you make yourself look tailor-made for the position. 

In order to do this, before you compose the letter you'll need to carefully study the job description and requirements for the position you're applying for. Typically, you can deduce what skills the hiring manager is looking for in a candidate based on the language in the job description. To impress the hiring manager further, do some additional research about the company, and identify areas where they’re looking to improve. 

3. Showcase Your Work Experience in Clear Terms

You can do this by using hard numbers to demonstrate the contributions you made at your previous job, because they provide actual evidence of your professional achievements. When you describe your accomplishments in quantifiable terms, a hiring manager will have an easier time understanding what you’re capable of — which makes it more likely you'll land an interview.

4. Highlight Your Educational Background

If you don’t have much work experience yet and need to highlight your relevant skills, try focusing on your education. This could include relevant coursework, group projects, volunteer work done through your school, and more.

You will have picked up a variety of skills while handling your college coursework. Many of these school-learned skills are transferable to the professional world, and employers are looking for them in their entry-level candidates. By highlighting your education, you not only fill up space — you demonstrate your strengths and relevant abilities.

5. End Your Cover Letter with a Convincing Pitch

Reiterate your interest in the position, thank them for the opportunity, and tell the hiring manager that you’ll follow up within a week to check on your application. By closing your cover letter this way, you nudge the hiring manager to take action over your application.

Lauren McAdams is a hiring manager, career consultant and lead writer at Resume Companion. Her career and resume advice have been featured on sites like ForbesHuffington PostTechRepublicHarvard Business Review and Ladders.
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