10 Hacks for Writing a Great Cover Letter
If you’re on the hunt for a new job, you’ll inevitably find that cover letters are a necessary evil. They set out to do what a resume or a CV can’t: offer a snapshot of who you are as a person, expand upon or provide context for your experience, and allow a glimpse into your communication skills. Showcasing the latter in your cover letter doesn’t mean cracking open a thesaurus and picking the most complex words you can find—it means clearly and succinctly delivering the information you want to share with the hiring manager.
Of course, your resume must be in tip-top shape to perfectly complement your cover letter, so don’t forget to check out our CV and resume-writing services. Your resume will do most of the heavy lifting, but a stellar cover letter can also give you an edge over a competitor.
Writing a cover letter might seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. You can keep it short and sweet—in fact, you should. Given how busy they are, hiring managers welcome brevity. A long-winded cover letter can indicate poor communication skills, an inability to focus on what’s relevant, or arrogance and narcissism. Since you’re aiming for brief, you will need to make every word count. Read on to learn how to craft the perfect cover letter and increase your chances of landing your dream job.
10 hacks for writing a great cover letter1. Start off strong. Hiring managers usually have tons of applications to sift through, so it’s crucial for you to stand out. Make your introduction interesting, memorable, and specific. Stories are the key ingredient of the most engaging cover letters; as a bonus, framing yours in a narrative makes you appear more creative, passionate, and competent.
Let’s say you’re applying for the position of horticultural therapist. You could start like this:
Dear [hiring manager’s name],
Plants have always had a special place in my heart. My grandmother was a botanist, and I was fortunate enough to inherit both her intellectual curiosity and her green thumb. Through her love and tutelage, I learned how powerful nurturing and cultivating plants can be for a person’s physical and mental health. I would be honored to bring that power to the communities most affected by mental health struggles by working with your community outreach department as chief horticultural therapist.
2. Avoid clichés and generic language. This means no assertions that you “think outside the box” or are a “team player.” The cover letter should already demonstrate that you have “excellent written communication skills,” so there’s no need to include that or regurgitate the skills mentioned in the job posting. It’s not that employers don’t appreciate the qualities implied in these clichés—it’s that they don’t believe you because everyone crams those into their resumes and cover letters. Prove your positive qualities through your experience and accomplishments.
You’ll also want to make sure you use the hiring manager’s name when you address your cover letter. Steer clear of “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To whom it may concern”—these immediately reveal that you haven’t done even the bare minimum to personalize your cover letter. If you don’t know who will be reading your letter, do some research. You may be able to locate the necessary information in the job posting, on the corporate website, or in employee LinkedIn profiles. If all else fails, you can always call the company and request the name of the hiring manager for the position you’re applying for. Should you still be unable to procure the person’s name, go with “Dear Hiring Manager.”
3. Include up-to-date contact information. This might seem like a no-brainer, but a surprising number of candidates fail to include all methods by which they can be reached. This information can go at the top or at the bottom, after your sign-off. Make sure you provide an email address that you check regularly, a reliable phone number, and a LinkedIn account (if you have one). If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, creating one is strongly recommended given the importance of this platform in the modern-day job market. Use our LinkedIn profile writing service to maximize your chances of impressing recruiters.
4. Don’t be afraid to brag a little. Avoid downplaying your accomplishments or unique skills in an attempt to be modest—bragging doesn’t have to sound arrogant. Your job application is like an advertisement, and there’s only yourself advocating for you—if you can’t do it, no one else will. You don’t want to come across as conceited, but you do want to radiate confidence.
Mention any relevant awards, promotions, or endorsements, and use any data available. Did you boost your former organization’s social media presence? If so, how many new followers did you attract? Maybe you increased the number of communities served by 50%. If you’re excellent at something, say so straight away—as long as you can back it up with examples. It’s one thing to claim you have particular skills or experience, but quite another to prove it through previous achievements.
If you don’t have all the qualifications listed, don’t mention it. You don’t have to meet every single requirement to get the job as long as you meet most of them and can demonstrate your value in your resume and cover letter.
5. Be specific. Choose a couple of the qualifications listed in the job posting and work with those. Since you should also be backing up your skills and experience with concrete achievements in your resume, think of some additional stories to share in your cover letter. For example, if the horticultural therapist listing mentions that strong conflict resolution skills are a must, describe an instance where you expertly resolved a conflict.
Here’s an example:
I have extensive experience working with marginalized communities. When I volunteered at Danvers State Prison as a horticulture instructor, two of my students got into an argument during our practical skills session. I managed to resolve the conflict by relying on my background in mediation, using my skills in non-judgmental active listening, and giving each student an individual project that required their full attention. I am confident that I have the ability to de-escalate conflicts before they get out of hand.
6. Proofread, proofread, proofread! The importance of this cannot be overstated! Small errors might seem like they should not matter, but they can be construed as lack of attention to detail and carelessness. Besides, hiring managers tend to be inundated with job applications, so they’ll seize on any excuse to narrow down the pool.
Write a couple of drafts and revise them carefully. Not confident in your writing and editing skills? Get a quote for our editing and proofreading service and let a professional ensure that your cover letter is completely error-free. In fact, hiring a professional proofreader is a good idea even if you are adept at grammar and spelling since effectively editing your own writing is just about impossible.7. Keep the tone formal (but not stuffy). Steer clear of exclamation marks, excessive adverbs, and conversational language. Here is what not to do:
I am incredibly excited to apply for this position! I really love your company culture, and I just know that I would make the absolute perfect fit! I promise that you won’t regret hiring me. After all, no one else has regretted it!
Obviously, enthusiasm is good, but don’t go overboard—you’ll sound unprofessional, and the hiring manager will probably pass you over, even if your qualifications are a good match for the position. If you read a cover letter similar in tone to the above example, would you hire that person? Probably not.
At the same time, you don’t want to veer too far in the other direction. Keep your tone professional but not excessively formal. Don’t use overly complicated vocabulary to show off your intelligence, and avoid using verbose expressions that add no value.
8. Explain what you’ll bring to the company. A hiring manager needs to see that you’ll be a good asset to the team. A common cover letter mistake is going on and on about what the company can offer you when the real focus should be on what sets you apart from the other candidates and what you can offer the organization. Talk about how you can help it fulfill its mission, how well you can fit into the team and company culture, how your values align with those of the employer, and how you can generally add value.
9. Use a template, but remember to edit it each time. A hiring manager can tell right away if you’re using the same cover letter in multiple applications. If you need to use a template, edit it to include information specific to the company and position. A good rule of thumb is to change or add a few lines in the middle section to make your cover letter appropriate for the organization you’re looking to join.
Obviously, you’ll have to change any names and job titles, but you’ll also want to modify the stories and accomplishments you include, as well as the skills and qualifications you highlight. If you need help, order our custom cover letter service, which comes with unlimited revisions.10. Write a short (but strong) conclusion. The meat of your cover letter is its middle paragraphs—in your conclusion, you only need to thank the hiring manager for their time and urge them not to hesitate to reach out for further information. Keep the tone professional and confident.
We hope these pointers will simplify the task of writing your cover letter, but if you still feel that you need help, reach out to our cover letter experts!