How to Write a Successful Cover Letter: 5 Tips for Job Seekers
If you’re out there scouring job boards, you’ve probably noticed that most applications require a cover letter along with your resume. While cover letters are no longer mandatory, they always make a great addition to a job application, so even if the vacancy ad doesn’t mention anything about a cover letter, it’s best to include one nevertheless.
Although it’s crucial to customize your cover letter for each application, nobody expects you to write one from scratch for every single job you apply for. You want every letter you submit to sound unique and original, but that doesn’t mean you have to craft an entirely new one every time.
There are certain elements and details you’ll want to share with all potential employers and a general narrative you want to stick to during the job search. This is why most applicants write a master copy of their cover letter, which they can then duplicate and personalize for each submission. You want to make sure that your template is flexible and that you customize it appropriately for each application, but in many ways, you can follow the general theme and structure in many different job applications.
What should you include in your cover letter? First, let’s go over the purpose of a cover letter. This document complements your resume, giving a recruiter the opportunity to learn more about you, to glimpse the personality behind the hard facts listed on your resume. It also affords you the chance to highlight your best qualities and qualifications in your own words, adding any information that may enhance your application or clarifying any details from your resume.
Often, the cover letter is the first document a hiring manager will look at, and if they’re not impressed, they probably won’t even reach for your resume. Therefore, your cover letter needs to stand out and make them want to take a closer look at your credentials. To ensure that your application moves forward, specify what role you’re applying for and use keywords from the original job post—remember that successful job applications focus on matching your skills to the employer’s needs. Besides, most companies nowadays use applicant tracking systems (ATSs), which generally determine the relevance of an application by identifying specific keywords, so if you don’t use them, the hiring manager may never even see your documents.
If that sounds overwhelming, don’t worry—our team of experts is here to support you through the entire process. You can have us write a custom cover letter for you, which you can easily tailor for your job applications.
So, how can you write a successful cover letter?
1. Personalize the greeting
You should always try to find the name of the person who will be reading your cover letter and resume so you can address them directly. This shows that you’ve done your research and really put effort into your application. Address the hiring manager as Mr. or Ms. if you know their preferred pronouns, but otherwise, stick to gender-neutral pronouns and greetings.
Look through the job posting or browse the company’s website to find the name of the hiring manager. If that doesn’t yield results, try contacting the company to obtain this information. If you still can’t get a specific name, use a neutral greeting such as Dear Hiring Manager. Avoid the old-school To Whom It May Concern, which sounds lazy and impersonal. In your closing paragraph, you can request action from the employer or the hiring manager by asking them to explain the next steps or to contact you if they have any further questions.
2. Stay professional
The cover letter is your chance to show your personality and connect directly with its reader in a way a resume doesn’t allow, but that’s not to say you can use slang or highly informal language. Although there’s more leeway for creativity in your cover letter than in your resume, it’s important to keep in mind that this is still a professional document. Also, it’s likely your first contact with the employer, so be polite and respectful, use appropriate language, and focus on showcasing your skills and explaining why you would be the best fit for the company. You should still let your personality shine through, but make sure you’re channeling the professional side of yourself.
3. Focus on the positives
It’s crucial that you’re honest about your work experience and qualifications in both your cover letter and resume, but that doesn’t mean you have to expose your weaknesses. The idea is to sell yourself through these two documents by highlighting your strengths and marketing your best qualities, and while everyone has weaknesses, that’s not what you want to focus on here. Simply by applying for a job, you’re making the case that you’re the ideal candidate and that you’re qualified to succeed in the role, so highlight the value you can bring to the position and the organization at large.
It’s likely that the hiring manager will first skim your cover letter to decide whether reading your full application is worth their time, so try to incorporate keywords from the job description so you can draw their attention to your skills. The best keywords to use are the ones highlighted in the job description, so pore over the job listing as you customize this part of your cover letter for each individual position.
4. Make sure your spelling and grammar are impeccable
Grammatical or spelling mistakes in your cover letter and resume are never a good look. Not only do they make you appear less competent regardless of your qualifications, but they also indicate a lack of care since you didn’t catch them before sending off your application. Depending on the person reading it and the severity of the mistakes, your entire application can get tossed, which is why it’s so important to have your letter proofread by someone else. Yes, you can check it for mistakes yourself, but proofreading your own writing is tricky, even for professional editors, so having a second pair of eyes on it is essential.
Also, make the letter easy to read by using paragraphs, varying sentence lengths, and avoiding repetition as much as possible. Write clearly and concisely, and stay away from flowery language as this isn’t the place for it. Don’t get creative with fonts, either. Go with classics such as Arial or Times New Roman—you want your cover letter to stand out because of its content, not its unique layout or font, so stick to the standards for those.
5. Keep it short
Not only is it imperative that you use concise, clear language, but it’s also crucial to confine your cover letter to a single page. The hiring manager doesn’t want your entire life story, and a sprawling cover letter can easily put them off because it shows you didn’t understand the assignment. It indicates poor communication skills since you weren’t able to condense the relevant information into a single page. It may also suggest you’re quite full of yourself.
Every sentence should have a purpose. It should move your story along and support the narrative that you’re the ideal candidate for the job, so don’t ramble. If there are any sentences that don’t seem to serve this purpose, don’t hesitate to cut them out. Remember: The cover letter is about connecting you as a person and an employee to your credentials, skills, and experience, giving the reader a better idea of who you are, what goals you’re pursuing, and how well you would fit into this workplace. It provides important context and additional information for your resume and rounds off your job application—as long as you do it right.
Read all the directions carefully to see if you’re required to attach any other materials (such as samples or portfolios) and research the company and the job beforehand so you know what exactly they require and how you can meet those requirements. To get expert help with composing your cover letter, contact our job success specialists.