A well-written cover letter can be the difference between landing a job or getting passed over. If you think of it from the hiring manager's point-of-view, your cover letter and resume are often all the information they have to decide if they want to bring you in for an interview.
A great cover letter can make you stand out from the crowd. As you craft your cover letters, consider them your opportunity to make an impression. It's your chance to grab the hiring manager's attention and assure them you are qualified for the role.
The best way to do this is to tell a story about why you are qualified for the job—and how hiring you will benefit the company. This requires some customization for each cover letter you write, but once you understand the formula, you can keep the process fast and simple.
Here are seven ways to make sure your cover letter stands out to help you land that interview.
1. Review the Job Posting and Do Your Homework
Hiring managers have dozens, if not hundreds, of cover letters and resumes to look through when they are trying to fill a position. By using the specific language they included in the job posting, you make it easier for them to quickly recognize your relevant skills and experience.
Before you start writing, review the job listing and possibly the company's website or social media pages. Write down relevant keywords to include in your letter. If possible, make a note of the hiring manager's name so you can address your cover letter to a specific person.
Often, employers list their most valued skills and requirements first. If you're not sure what to emphasize, start at the top of the list or look at what is repeated in the posting.
If you are applying for an entry-level position and don't have much work experience, focus on the employer's values. Be enthusiastic and reflect the company's values in your letter.
To make the process as easy as possible, keep the job posting and company website open in separate tabs while you craft your letter so you can easily reference them. You can also paste the job description into your cover letter document while you type and then delete it before you send it.
If you locate the hiring manager's name in your research but aren't sure if they are a Mrs. or Ms., you can avoid awkward mistakes by using their full name. If you do not find the right name or aren't sure who will read your letter, avoid "To Whom It May Concern." Good alternatives include "Dear Hiring Manager," "Dear IT Hiring Manager," or "Dear Human Resources Team."
2. Don't Write Like a Robot
Work is about getting things done, but it's also about relationships. You may be part of a team and need to work well with the other employees. Letting your personality show through in your cover letter is a great way to give them a sense of how you will fit in.
Adding a personal touch does not mean being informal or unprofessional. You can share some of your personality through your tone, vocabulary, and what you choose to share. If you are very outgoing, let that come through your letter with enthusiasm and confidence. Or if you are more reserved and task-oriented, your tone will be focused more on education and accomplishments.
3. Open Strong
Open your cover letter with an attention-grabbing first paragraph. Give them a reason to keep reading with a sentence or two connecting your skills, enthusiasm, or experience with the job they need to fill.
Instead of: "I am writing to apply for the Phone Sales Rep position," add more context to tie it to you.
For example, "I am excited to apply for the position of Phone Sales Rep you posted on ZipRecruiter. I've been using your closet organizers for the past three years, and your products and my outgoing personality are a perfect fit."
Keep your opening paragraph brief—two to three concise sentences—but use the opportunity to make a personal connection between the role and what you bring to the table.
Don't fall into the trap of using exclamation points or unnecessary adverbs. Instead of saying, "I am extremely excited to apply to your Customer Service position! I am a very helpful person, and my experience in retail sales helped me develop super customer service skills."
Convey your enthusiasm with a more professional tone: "I was delighted to see your posting for a Customer Service position on ZipRecruiter. As a Retail Sales Representative, I discovered a natural talent for problem-solving and helping customers leave happier than when they arrived."
4. Make Your Skills Shine
Bring some of the bullet points on your resume to life in your cover letter. It's essential to keep your cover letter brief, with three or four paragraphs that easily fit onto one page. Rather than describe every skill and experience on your resume, highlight two to three key ones and make them shine.
For example, imagine you are applying for a position as a Social Media Marketing Assistant, and one of your skills is keeping the company's accounts active and customers engaged. Part of your second paragraph may say something like, "At 123 Company, my quick and helpful responses on Facebook and Instagram helped increase their following by 500% in six months. Most satisfying for me was when, on several occasions, I was able to convert negative responses into enthusiastic and satisfied customers by acknowledging and addressing their concerns."
If you aren't coming to the job with much experience, focus on your strengths and how they apply to the position. For example, if you were applying for a Data Entry position, you might say, "I type 60 words a minute with high accuracy and was first in my Excel class to understand formulas."
5. What Can You Do for the Company?
Your third paragraph is an opportunity to clarify how your skills apply to the position and how you can benefit the company. You can tie your skills and experience to a requirement of the position. If you share values with the business or identify with its mission, you can illustrate how your skills, experience, or personality are a good match.
Here are two examples:
My experience building a large and enthusiastic social media following from almost nothing will help Tuv Reviews expand into new market segments and keep its audience active and engaged.
Every year during the holidays, my family and I bake cakes and bring them to the local homeless shelter, where we serve food. When I saw how active Ayn Mechanics is in the local community, I understood and identified with its mission.
6. Avoid Repetition or Fluff
You don't have a lot of space to make your impression. A good cover letter makes its point quickly and efficiently by eliminating fluff or repetition.
Make each paragraph highly relevant, purposeful, and an expression of your skills, experience, and personality. Less is more. Hiring managers appreciate a letter that is easy to read and informative.
7. Review and Edit
Before you send it, proofread your letter. You can have a friend or family member look it over if they are available. It helps to read it out loud. If you can walk away for an hour or two and come back with fresh eyes, that helps as well.
A professional-looking cover letter free of spelling and grammar mistakes highlights your attention to detail. It shows hiring managers how capable you are and the effort you are willing to contribute.
Now Is Your Time to Shine
Finding a job is a process that takes time and steady effort. Until you are hired, submitting job applications is part of your job. You don't want to labor for hours over each cover letter, but a little thought and care will help you stand out.
If you are someone who isn't typically comfortable with bragging or talking about how great you are, this is the moment to make an exception. Don't wait for employers to see through your modesty or humility. Using professional language, make it easy for them to see what an asset you will be.
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