Top 7 Tips for Writing a Kick-Ass Cover Letter
Posted by Pamela Skillings
Once you have researched employment opportunities, made a list of positions you would like to apply for, and perfected your resume, the next step is fine-tuning your cover letter before sending it to prospective employers.
Cover letters provide the opportunity to elaborate on job skills and past employment experiences listed on your resume, show off your writing ability (something important to nearly all employers), and make yourself stand out among other applicants vying for the same position.
Here are seven tips to write a kick-ass cover letter, and beat the unemployment blues:
Cover Letter Tip 1
Each time you submit a cover letter to an employer, revise the letter to make it specific to the position and company. Highlight job skills, traits and past work experience most relevant to the position at hand.
This means going beyond inserting the name of the company and a few detailed sentences into a previously written letter.
Employers recognize when job applicants have sent a stock cover letter, and when they’ve written a unique one (especially when you forget to change the name of the company, telling Company A how interested you are in the available position at Company B).
Avoid this recipe for how not to get an interview. Draft a custom cover letter for each position for which you apply.
Cover Letter Tip 2
Follow the format of a business letter. This means including contact information at the top (name, address, phone number, email), followed by the date, a formal greeting, well-organized body paragraphs, and a formal closing.
Text should be right justified and double-spaced between paragraphs. Keep the length to one page.
Proofread the letter. Have someone else proofread for you. Edit, revise and repeat as necessary. Don’t ruin your first impression with a stupid mistake.
Cover Letter Tip 3
Try your best to address the cover letter to an actual person, rather than “Dear Hiring Manager” or “To Whom It May Concern.” Addressing the letter to a specific person makes it more personal, and more likely to be read than placed in a pile in the HR office (or worse, stashed in a computer file, and out of physical sight).
You may be able to find out the name of the person who will be reading your cover letter by checking the job posting, asking the person who told you about the position, or contacting the company’s HR department.
Cover Letter Tip 4
To begin the body of your cover letter, the first paragraph should detail what position you are applying for and how you learned of the opportunity.
Briefly explain how your skills and background make you a qualified candidate for the position. Express your enthusiasm for the company and why you are interested in the position.
Cover Letter Tip 5
In the opening paragraph, don’t be afraid to mention someone you know at the company who may be able to act as a personal or professional reference, especially if you learned of the job opportunity through this person.
Be sure to ask your contact if it’s all right to drop his or her name in the letter, and if so, keep the explanation of your relationship concise (i.e. I learned of the opportunity through a former colleague John Doe, the current vice-president of communications). This will allow your reader to contact the person for a reference if desired.
It always helps to know someone on the inside, and a good referral (with a solid resume and cover letter) often leads to an interview.
Cover Letter Tip 6
In the second paragraph, explain how you meet the required skills and qualifications of the position. Utilize the job description and company profile provided in the posting or by the person who informed you of the opportunity. Elaborate on points in your resume, but don’t be repetitive.
Some companies use software that searches for specific keywords within your cover letter (and resume) to discover the applicants with the most desired skills — and weed out those without them.
Reading the job posting carefully will allow you to pick and choose keywords and phrases used by the company, which will garner your cover letter more hits and improve the chances that a human being will read your letter, and not just a computer system.
Cover Letter Tip 7
Conclude the letter with a thank you and express your interest in hearing from the reader soon regarding the status of your application. Communicate the best way to reach you, by phone or email.
If mailing the cover letter, sign and type your full name. If emailing, the likely method, you may send the cover letter in the body of the email or in an attachment. Use simple text and remove the formatting when sending the letter in the email’s body.
Always review the job posting carefully for directions on the preferred method of submitting your application materials. In the email’s subject line, include your full name and the position for which you are applying.
Now that you’ve written and revised your cover letter, and just clicked “Send,” give the employer at least two weeks to reply. Companies often receive dozens, even hundreds, of cover letters for one position and may not respond for weeks, months or at all.
If a good amount of time passes, and the employer hasn’t responded to one or more follow up emails, it’s likely that the company is not interested. Just don’t get down on yourself.
There are a multitude of reasons why the employer may not have contacted you (a subpar cover letter may or may not be a factor). Try to improve your cover letter, and sell yourself better next time.
On the other hand, if you follow these tips, you may end up getting a call for an interview and find out your cover letter was pretty kick-ass after all.
Also, check out our in-depth guide with many cover letter examples.
Also, enjoy this funny cover letter from Reddit. 50/50 on whether it’s real, but who cares.
Pamela Skillings is co-founder of Big Interview. As an interview coach, she has helped her clients land dream jobs at companies including Google, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase. She also has more than 15 years of experience training and advising managers at organizations from American Express to the City of New York. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and an instructor at the American Management Association.
What do I include in my argument/body?
"Writing Your Cover Letter" is a series of short documents that walks you through the creation of a cover letter. Here you can see the information in the "Quick Tips for Cover Letters" and "Preparing to Write a Cover Letter" pages put to use. This page guides you through adapting your experiences to the content in your cover letter and its different sections.
Contributors:Angie Olson, Allen Brizee
Last Edited: 2010-04-25 08:58:38
In the body of your cover letter (the argument), you should describe the most important qualifications to show why you are a good match for the job and the company.
You should focus your cover letter's body around the two-three qualifications you mention in the introduction. In each paragraph you can concentrate on one quality, seeking to answer the following two questions:
- How can I show I am qualified for this position and that I am a good match for the organization?
- What have I done that illustrates these qualifications?
How can I show I am qualified for this position and that I am a good match for the organization?
You do not want to only mention the skills that you possess; you also have to show that you possess them! When writing about your skills, you can think of it as telling a story. You should describe the experiences of how you received and grew your skills, mentioning specific places you worked and positions you held. For example:
My communication skills in the workplace have grown because of my internships. When I was an intern at Newberry & Jones, I wrote memos and letters to customers and colleagues on a daily basis. This experience taught me to write professionally and to-the-point.
What have I done that illustrates these qualifications?
Along with explaining your skills, you want to describe how your experience with that skill is unique. Many people may have communication skills, but have you won an award or scholarship for technical writing? Be specific and match this information to your resume
Here are some ideas about what might set you apart:
- Special projects
- Explain course work that gives you a type of professional experience.
- Show that others have recognized the high quality of your work.
- Include only those awards that relate to the position you desire.
- Demonstrate how you improved efficiency/productivity at work or school.
- Include what you did at school that proves your skills.
- Explain how you set a goal and reached it.
While at Purdue University, I participated in a collaborative web-consulting project for a Technical Writing class. With two peers, I served as a web consultant for a local business, Patters' Painters. In order to make feasible recommendations for revisions, additions, and deletions to Patters' Painters' website, we conducted interviews, observed the workplace, and completed multiple web analyses...I believe these experiences match the requirements you outline in the job description.