Paragraph Power

In a well-crafted cover letter, not all paragraphs are equal. Master the hierarchy!

Photo by sk on Unsplash

A cover letter (also known as a motivation letter), is a prolonged elevator pitch to future employers about highlights from your professional background and top assets you possess that will bring added value currently missing in a company, organization, or team.

Ideally, your cover letter should be no longer than 1 page (about 300 words). For specialized industries, 1.5 pages (about 500–700 words) are common, not unexpected, and purposeful.

Organizing your paragraphs presents a hierarchy of information.

In the first paragraph, get to the point about the worthiness of your application as soon and succinctly as possible. State what job you are applying for, how many years of professional experience you have executed the functions of said job, and your education level if, and only if, you have obtained a post-secondary degree. Mentioned the name of the institution that issued your degree if, and only if, the institution is an Ivy League school or is distinguished in your field. You may even find it beneficial to mention the concentration you pursued whilst obtaining the degree.

The body of the cover letter should be presented in either one of two ways: chronically or functionally.

When presenting a functional cover letter, aim to highlight at least 3 of your best assets or skills as it pertains to the job description. The job duties and the level of prestige of the company or organization will determine how many assets you present in your cover letter. In short, the more demanding the job function, the more assets you highlight from the job description that you have.

In a functional format, the body of the cover letter highlights either the assets you believe are your best from the job description or the assets that are most crucial to the job description in descending ranking order. Every sentence must justify how your asset has been proven in each job role you’ve had. With this method, in one paragraph, you may discuss multiple positions from your background anachronistically to emphasize your proven ability to execute the job function. As you move through the body of your cover letter, each paragraph should rank the value of your assets in descending order. Of the assets you present, there is no need to identify which is your best; instead, the position of your paragraphs implies which is strongest. Whenever possible, show a mixture of skills, abilities, and competencies in each paragraph to describe the breadth of your assets.

A chronological display of your abilities is the other most effective way to present your added value to a hiring manager. I find the chronological display very effective when you have a clearly defined career ladder progression, preferably within a single industry, under a single job function, and/or at a series of high-profile companies or organizations. With a chronological display, your assets are proven by showing how you’ve advanced on the career ladder over a set period. This is quite attractive as it shows your commitment to one career track or institution.

The last paragraph should serve as a recap of character traits that have not been covered already in the previous paragraphs. Stick with 3–5 additional reasons (assets) that make your candidacy exceptional. If you did not mention your education in the first paragraph, ensure that you capture it in the last. And finally, pick a formal closing for your letter.

With this strategy, your cover letter becomes the voice and personality of your CV; it extends your elevator pitch yet succinctly describes your added value to a new employer. Follow these tips and walk into your new

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