Tips for Writing a Great Cover Letter
When most people are getting ready to apply for jobs, they sometimes think that writing their resume will be the most challenging part of the process. Your resume is, of course, extremely important, but it is the cover letter that accompanies it that can make the critical first impression on a hiring manager that will get you noticed. As such, it needs to be much more than a rushed, generic afterthought.
Every cover letter you write should be customized for the specific job you are applying for. It should be clearly written and concise, as well as free from any typos, grammatical errors, or misspelled names.
Remember, most hiring managers will read your cover letter before they look at your resume. It’s a golden opportunity for you, as a self-marketing document, to show why you are a great candidate for a job.
How To Write a Cover Letter That Will Get You Hired
Here are tips and suggestions that will help your cover letter stand out from the crowd and get you one step closer to a job offer.
Send a Cover Letter Each Time
Your cover letter may make the difference between obtaining a job interview and having your resume ignored. It is your first opportunity to create a relationship with the person who is doing the hiring. Even if an employer doesn’t request a cover letter, it’s helpful to send one.
Don’t Rehash Your Resume
Your cover letter should complement, not duplicate, your resume. It should expand upon your resume, highlight your skills and experience, and explain how these relate to the job you’re applying for.
The other advantage that a cover letter has over a resume is that, as a narrative, it allows you more of a chance to use your personal “tone” to build rapport with a hiring manager —to show, in your own words, your thinking process and goals in asking for their consideration.
Think of your cover letter, first and foremost, as a “sales pitch.” Its primary goal is to explain why you are a candidate who deserves a personal interview.
Target Your Cover Letter
It’s important to match your cover letter to the requirements listed in the job posting:
- Take a good look at the job posting and make a list of the criteria the employer is looking for.
- Then, list the skills and experience you have that correlate to what the employer is seeking.
- Focus on incorporating these qualifications into your cover letter.
This is not cheating or copying. It’s simply being smart enough to target your skills to the job. Be sure to directly address, in your letter, how your skills match the job requirements established by the employer.
Remember, a successful cover letter shows a potential employer how you’ll benefit the company. Why you want the job and why it’s a good fit for you are less important considerations for hiring managers. Your cover letter should focus on the employer’s needs rather than your own.
Tip: As a general rule, try not to use the personal pronoun “I” more than three or four times in your cover letter, and never begin a paragraph with “I.” This will help to ensure that your cover letter is focused on the employer.
Highlight Your Chief Qualifications
A great way to catch a hiring manager’s eye is to present your most desirable qualifications in a bulleted section in or right after the second paragraph of your cover letter. If possible, quantify impressive professional achievements with numbers, dollar amounts, or percentages, using boldface to make these figures “pop” on the page. Here’s an example:
A few examples of my qualifications include the following:
- 10 years experience producing YOY gains within the luxury automobile sales sector, achieving a 75% increase in sales from FY 20XX to FY 20XX.
- Proven foresight in capitalizing upon rising internet marketing strategies to build a strong client base.
- Superb customer service talents, consistently earning client satisfaction scores of more than 95%.
Incorporate Keyword Phrases
Like your resume, your cover letter may be scanned by a company’s automated applicant tracking system (ATS) if it is submitted digitally. These systems are programmed to pinpoint specific keyword phrases (or “buzzwords”); they then rank the applications received according to the placement and the number of times the keywords appear in the application.
If your cover letter and resume don’t use these keyword phrases, they may never reach the human eye of a hiring manager.
It’s important, then, to use relevant keyword phrases in your cover letter. Your best guide to which phrases to use is the listing that describes the job you are applying for. If a phrase appears high and/or frequently on the list of the company’s “Required” or “Preferred” qualifications, it’s a good idea to include it somewhere in your cover letter.
Tip: Just be sure not to overdo it with these “buzzwords.” While including them can help rank your application higher, repeating them too often can read as robotic and possibly off-putting.
Format Your Letter Properly
Your formatting will be slightly different if you’re sending your letter through the mail, uploading it to an application portal, or sending it via email.
All cover letters are structured into three basic sections:
- In the first paragraph, you’ll say why you’re writing. Mention the specific job title and where you saw the posting.
- In the middle section, you’ll establish what makes you a good candidate, referencing relevant experience and skills.
- Finally, in the third section of a cover letter, you’ll thank the letter recipient for reading. You can also share details on how you’ll follow up.
If you are sending a formal letter through the mail, use the same header (i.e., with your contact information) that you do at the top of the first page of your resume.
Write Simply and Clearly
Write a short, targeted letter by getting right to the point. No one has time for an epic novel, so keep your cover letter to one page. Also, make sure each paragraph has no more than three or four sentences. If you want, you can opt to use bullet points to break up chunks of text. Just make sure they do not duplicate the language of your resume.
Avoid clichés in your cover letter. While it is a formal piece of correspondence, it shouldn’t sound stilted, stiff, or unnatural.
Personalize Your Letter
If you can, address your cover letter to the individual who is doing the hiring. If necessary, conduct some online research to find out who the hiring manager is. Search LinkedIn or find the “Contact” or “About Us” section of the employer’s website.
If you can’t find a contact person, you can use “Dear Hiring Manager” or simply start your letter with the first paragraph.
Sending an Email Cover Letter
When you email a cover letter, make sure your letter is short. Include the copy in the body of the email message. Or you can include a short introduction in your email and attach a lengthier cover letter to the message.
Tip: Keep copies of all your cover letters so that you can track what you sent to whom and when. That way, if you get a request for an interview, you can look back at your cover letters to know what you already mentioned.
Spell Check and Proofread
Before you send the cover letter, ask someone to read it and review it for typos. It’s difficult noticing mistakes in our own writing because we are so close to it. If you’re alone and need to proofread your own work, you can try a few techniques to catch errors: change the font style, copy the text into another document, or read the document backward (from bottom to top).
Always double-check that you have spelled the company name, the job title and department, and your contact’s name correctly. These are particularly embarrassing errors.