I've heard several college career counselors tell students it's cheating to use a free sample cover letter template, and "if you use one you won't learn how to write a letter yourself." Do you think so? I don't!
Avoid Brain Freeze
There's something about staring at a blank page that's just plain discouraging! For some people, using a cover letter template is a good way to avoid that blank-screen-brain-freeze. Because the template has words on the page, you're not starting from scratch. And even if you replace every single word in the template with your own words, the template has served its purpose -- it got you through the cover letter writing process.
Like many job seekers, you've probably opened a new Word document on your computer and then asked questions like: How the heck do I start my letter? Does the date go at the top, left, center, or on the right? Do I need an inside address? How do I format the paragraphs? With or without spaces between them?
Then it dawns on you: "Why reinvent the wheel? Someone, some where has already figured this stuff out and created a template for it." So you google "free sample cover letter template" and when the results page brings up a good one, you're well on your way to writing your cover letter!
Is It Cheating to Use a Cover Letter Template?
Not at all, at least not a good one. A good cover letter template isn't a boilerplate that makes your cover letter sound like all the other letters created by every job seeker using the same template.
Here's what makes the following cover letter template a good one:There's no way that two or more people using this template would turn out cover letters that sound the same. That's because this template is really just a structure made from text that helps you figure out what information to write and where to write it. But it doesn't tell you exactly what words to write. Here you go...
Start your first paragraph with a sentence that grabs the manager's attention. If you've been referred by someone, use that person's name right away. If you have something else in common with the reader (maybe you both went to the same college), use that topic to start. Then say what job or type of job you seek. This paragraph should be no longer than five lines.
Your second paragraph should highlight qualifications that very specifically target your job objective and the organization where you want to work. Use professional yet friendly language to show that you understand this employer's needs and how you can fill them. Again, this paragraph should be no more than five lines. It's OK to use bullet points to keep your presentation concise and punchy.
Your third paragraph is your last one. It should say "thank you" and suggest that you would like a job interview. Depending on the situation, you could say that you will call the hiring manager or that you look forward to hearing from him or her. This paragraph should be less than five lines.
Sincerely, (or another closing such as Regards)
So, if you copy and paste this cover letter template into a Word document and replace all the words in the template with your own, is that cheating? Of course not. Go ahead. Use it to get your words in print.
Other Job Search Letters
Cover letters aren't the only job search letters you'll need to write before you land your next job. Undoubtedly you'll be writing:
- Cover emails with attached resumes
- Cover notes for resume website applications
- Follow-up emails to recruiters when they ask for more info
- Thank-you emails after the job interview
Each of these has a slightly different tone and goal so a different letter template might be in order.
Especially for hardcopy letters, I prefer downloadable Word templates because the formatting is all done. You don't have to think about margin widths, indents, and all that -- it's all done for you. All you have to do is replace the text with your own. Downloadable templates usually are not free, but there are some very good ones at affordable prices.
To Sum It Up
A cover letter template is a great job search tool. It's not cheating to use one -- it's smart!
You can find free sample cover letter templates online and for a small price you can download some really good Word templates for all sorts of job search emails and letters.
If all else fails, you can hire a resume professional to write a great letter with you.
Even in our age of social networking, don’t underestimate the importance of a solid résumé and cover letter. They’re often a company’s first look at your background and skills, which means they need to be organized and well-polished. Here are some tips for making that happen:
The Dice Résumé Center: Free Sample Résumés
We’re pleased to provide this library of free sample résumés covering a range of IT jobs.
How to Write a Tech Résumé
Merely listing your employment history and education isn’t enough. Here’s how to craft one that will actually get your foot in the door.
Top Cover Letter Tips From IT Managers
Forget boilerplate templates for cover letters: If you want to grab an IT manager’s attention, tailor the contents of your cover letter toward his or her specific needs.
10 Simple Ways to Screw Up Your Cover Letter
Cover letters are often your first mode of contact with an employer, so obviously you want them to be perfect. And, as in everything else, you get to perfect by sweating the details.
5 Things on Your Résumé to Trash
Nothing can tank your prospects for a job interview quicker than a résumé that inadvertently shows your tech skills as grievously out-of-date. Recruiters and employers are always on the lookout for mentions of dead programming languages, useless tools, and outmoded lingo.
Link Your Résumé and Cover Letter
Job candidates tend to treat their cover letters and résumés as separate entities with zero overlap. Linking the two, however, can bolster your job application in ways that make it truly stand out.
Don’t Load Your Résumé With Jargon
It pays to keep your résumé as light as possible on the technical jargon: list your skills and programming languages, summarize projects you’ve done, but save the deep stuff for the interview.
Power Verbs for Your Résumé and Cover Letter
Power verbs bring your résumé to life. They paint a picture for the reviewer by highlighting your skills and accomplishments, affirm your communication skills, and help you stand out in a crowd. Begin each statement or phrase with a power verb, then take you résumé to the next level, by inserting action-packed power verbs into your work history and branding statement. Here are some of our power verb suggestions (by category) to help you get started.