When writing a cover letter…
1. Include the job title and keywords from the job description
When you’re applying for a job and you’re asked to submit a cover letter, it’s crucial that you take a good look at the job posting to see exactly what the employer is looking for. Make sure that you can offer what the job entails, and use keywords from the ad in your cover letter, just like your résumé, to make it stand out. Always be sure to include the position for which you’re applying as well so that the employer can easily see why they’re receiving your letter.
2. Make it known how you became interested in the company
It doesn’t have to take up too much time or space, but if you can, let the employer know what made you apply for a job at this company. List what about the company appeals to you, how you first found it, and what you think makes the company different from others like it. Don’t confuse this with explaining why you want the job; employers want to know why you like their company, not why you need a job.
3. Cut the formalities and give it some personality
This is a letter for a job, yes, but that doesn’t mean that you need to be overly formal when addressing whoever will be reading your letter. This is the first time you’ll be introducing yourself to a perspective employer, and you should make it count. Try to convey a bit of your personality, if possible, rather than writing a cookie cutter letter that just lists your qualifications. You want to tell employers who you are while you’re telling them what you can do because they’re not just looking for an employee – they’re looking for someone who believes in their mission and will become an integral part of their team.
4. Don’t include everything that’s on your résumé
It’s easy to get carried away on a cover letter and say everything you feel an employer needs to know before hiring you. Don’t forget that you haven’t gotten the interview yet – this is a time to display your most valuable and marketable qualities based on the position you’re applying for. Be specific about what you can bring to the job, but don’t focus so much on how you built those skills – that’s what you’ll be focusing on when you get the interview.
5. If you’re short on experience, focus on skills
It’s great to talk about examples of your accomplishments and your experience working in a field related to the job you’re applying for, and you should list any pertinent experiences in your cover letter if you feel that they are your best shot at getting an employer to give you an interview. However, you might not have a long list of experiences to showcase what you’ve done and what you’re capable of doing. The important thing to remember is that employers aren’t really looking for experiences; they’re looking for skills, and if you can show that you know what they want and you think you’ve got it, make it known. Don’t be shy about stressing your capabilities, especially if they’re in the job description that you’re applying for.
6. Only stress the skills you do have
It’s easy to start criticizing yourself while writing a cover letter, and you might find that you’re talking about the skills listed on a job description that you don’t have. Instead of focusing on what you can’t offer, focus on what you can. Really try to paint as positive an image of yourself as possible.
7. Brag, brag, brag. And then keep bragging
As I said in my previous post about writing personal essays, you need to be able to talk about your accomplishments without feeling like you’re bragging too much or you’re going to put someone off by talking about how many great things you’ve done. Just remember that whoever is reading this letter is looking to hire you, and the more honest and overt you are about your abilities, the more likely you are to stand out and be chosen for an interview. They’re pressed for time, and they want your letter to tell them, as quickly as possible, exactly why they should give you their time. That being said, don’t use this as a time to stress what makes you a great person or better than other people – Just talk about your most important qualifications in the most positive way you can.
8. Edit, revise, and shorten
You might end up with a page and a half of content by the time that you’ve finished writing your letter and including everything that you think is important. If that’s the case, start cutting. Your cover letter should never (or rarely ever) be more than one page, and that’s with room for the entire heading and signature (I’ll explain further below).
There are countless ways to write and format a cover letter, but this is what I would recommend when applying for most jobs unless they’re unconventional and require something more creative.
Example cover letter format:
Employer job title
Dear Employer Name,
List a small amount of background information about yourself, how you came to apply at the company, and why you’re drawn to this position. If you have a lot of skills and/or experiences to list, you might want to summarize them in a general way here as a form of introduction for the body section of your letter. For example, you could say, ‘I have a variety of experiences related to this position that have prepared me for (insert specific aspects of job description).’
In the body section, you’ll want to write all of your experiences and skills in a broad but detailed way. You want to talk about what you’ve achieved, but you don’t want to go into all of the details that you list on your résumé like job titles or dates of employment.
If you have a lot to say, and it won’t all fit into the first two paragraphs, you can write a third paragraph that further demonstrates your capabilities, but be weary of this, as it takes up more space, and you’ll be more likely to include unnecessary details if you give yourself more letter space to fill up.
Your final paragraph should invite the employer to contact you to ask for any materials or information that they might wish to see or know before inviting you for an interview. You might also mention that you’ve attached your résumé and any other pertinent information or documents. End your letter with a cordial “I look forward to hearing from you,” or something similar, to make it clear that you’re the one who will be lucky to hear from them, not the other way around.
For examples of finished cover letters, look at Quint Careers, or find industry-based samples at Resume Genius.
What can you do to make your cover letter even more effective? What are some dos and don’ts that you follow when writing a cover letter?