4 Tips for Writing a Successful Cover Letter
Between scouring job boards and customizing resumes and cover letters, job hunting can be a time-consuming process, but there are certain things you simply must do if you want to land your ideal job. Of course, you need to submit a professionally formatted resume tailored to the specific position, but on top of that, you should also include a great cover letter. Whereas cover letters were basically mandatory in the past, many employers no longer require them. However, it’s still best practice to include a well-written cover letter with every job application unless the posting specifically instructs candidates not to.
Why is submitting a cover letter so useful? If a recruiter likes what they see on your resume, they’ll want to know more about you before inviting you to interview, and that’s where your cover letter comes in. It’s your chance to introduce yourself to your potential employer, adding to the information on your resume, which focuses more on job history and qualifications than passion or personality.
A cover letter allows you to write more freely, revealing your personality, your enthusiasm for the job, and any interesting background details that bolster your application. It also offers an excellent opportunity to explain any less appealing items on your resume.
Your cover letter should tell the reader who you are as an individual and as an employee, as well as what you hope to achieve in this job, so include a couple of pertinent examples of past accomplishments that prove your suitability for this new role. Offering concrete examples is a fantastic way to highlight your abilities and passion because it draws on real-life events rather than your self-perception and expectations. Use stats and numbers if you can to drive your point home and support your claims, but don’t repeat what’s already on your resume—this is where you add to your story, not retell it.
If you’re not sure where to start, have our experts write a customized cover letter for you that you can easily repurpose for multiple job applications with only a few tweaks. Thus, you’ll always be ready to apply as soon as a vacancy opens up, staying one step ahead of the competition.
So, what makes a successful cover letter?
1. It showcases your personality
The first thing to keep in mind is that your cover letter is still a business document and should be treated as such, so watch your language. While you certainly have far more creative freedom than with your resume, it’s important to maintain a polite, professional, and relatively formal tone in your cover letter. This is your first interaction with a potential employer, and you want to demonstrate professionalism—otherwise, they’re not likely to pursue your application further.
That being said, it’s also your chance to make a lasting first impression, so don’t be too formal, and inject your personality into your writing. Express your enthusiasm for the company and the job and explain why you’re the ideal candidate. Framing your interest as a story can be an engaging and memorable way to get the information across, and it’s likely to make a stronger impression on the hiring manager. You only have a few seconds to draw the reader’s attention, so make sure you come across as honest and authentic.
Another great way to create a compelling cover letter is to find the name of the person who will be reading it so you can address it directly to them—personalizing your cover letter can make a huge difference, helping you stand out from the crowd. You may be able to find that name in the job listing or on the company’s website, but if you can’t, don’t be shy about calling the company and asking—most companies are happy to help job applicants willing to go the extra mile.
2. It highlights your skills
Although you definitely want to list both your soft and hard (technical) skills on your resume, your cover letter is your chance to connect those skills to your personality and to the job you’re pursuing. Don’t be afraid to point out your best qualities and to sell yourself, focusing on the positives rather than what might be missing from your resume.
In many ways, a job application is like an ad campaign for yourself, so you want to determine the best way to sell yourself to the employer, which will often be through your top skills. This is your chance to show them that you’re eager to contribute to their company and to learn and grow with it, so consider how your skills and experience match its needs and lay it out clearly in your cover letter. If you’re creative enough, you can shine a light on skills that don’t immediately seem related to the job.
3. It contains keywords
The person reading your cover letter is likely to skim it first, checking for keywords that relate to the position you’re applying for, and it’s your responsibility to make sure they’re in there. The crucial thing here is not to simply include the skills that you think match the position but to incorporate the specific terminology the employer has designated as keywords. This necessitates a bit of research, but it’s an absolute must given that many companies today use applicant tracking systems (ATSs), which filter job applications largely based on the inclusion of select keywords.
Go back to the job description and write down the words that relate to the specific skills, tools, and responsibilities listed there. In many cases, these keywords will be bolded, italicized, underlined, capitalized, or otherwise distinct from the rest of the text. Be sure to include as many of them as possible in both your resume and cover letter—this will help your application make it past the ATS and show you’re diligent and attentive to detail, scoring you a few extra points. The same goes for the actual job title—mention it in your cover letter so the hiring manager can instantly associate you with the position you’re interested in. After all, the company may be hiring for different positions concurrently.
4. It is concise
You want your cover letter to reveal your personality, but that doesn’t mean you should write your entire life story. The person processing your application is likely dealing with dozens more just like it, and they don’t have time to read a detailed account of why you’re perfect for the job. Besides, if you talk about yourself too much, you risk coming across as arrogant or narcissistic.
Instead, get to the point and give them the information they want right away. Use your cover letter as an opportunity to showcase your strong communication skills, steering clear of flowery prose and fancy vocabulary—good communication is about conveying a message clearly and concisely, preferably in an engaging way.
If writing isn’t your strong suit, check out our professional services for job success and let our experts support you through the job search, be it by writing or overhauling your resume and cover letter, running mock interviews, or providing personalized career coaching.