The Dos and Don’ts of Writing a Killer Cover Letter

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Cover letters are a necessary evil when it comes to landing a job, and writing them can be as much fun as poking yourself in the eye with a fork.

So, why bother? For one thing, a cover letter significantly enhances your job prospects. Given that hiring managers sift through dozens of applications a day, a well-crafted cover letter can be the difference between getting an interview and getting tossed aside. 

Luckily for you, we’ve got some tips that will set you on the right path. You’re not guaranteed to get a job—you never are—but these tips will definitely improve your chances.

If you’d rather have your cover letter crafted by professionals, check out our job-related services and get all the help you need.

Let’s now delve into the dos and don’ts of writing a stellar cover letter. 

1. Do make it personal 

Address your cover letter to a real person—it shows you’ve done your homework and will give the recruiter a warm feeling, which definitely won’t be the case if you start with “Dear Sir or Madam” or, even worse, “To Whom It May Concern.” 

Don’t be afraid to contact the organization and request the name of the hiring manager. If they still can’t give you the name, ask them who you should have as the addressee. At this point, you’ve done everything you can.

Reaching out also gives you the chance to form a connection and find out more about what the company is looking for. A former recruiter for Google offers the following advice: “Hiring goals need to be met, so when recruiters hear from a candidate asking how to increase their chances of making it through the application process, they’re going to take the time to help.” Since this comes straight from the horse’s mouth, it’s the most valuable advice you could possibly receive.

2. Don’t make it all about you

This might sound counterintuitive—the whole point of a job application is to tell the recruiter about yourself, right? 

Wrong! The point of a job application is to solve a problem the company has: filling a vacancy with a candidate who can get the job done best. Once you reframe your application along these lines, you’ll be able to show how you solve that problem and demonstrate your value to the company. It’s not about what skills and experience you have per se, but whether you have the skills and experience the employer is looking for and how you can use them to add value to the organization.

Put yourself in the recruiter’s shoes—this person doesn’t need to hear your life story or even the things that make you brilliant if those aren’t pertinent to their needs. Cut out anything that isn’t relevant to the job.

3. Don’t rehash your resume 

Your cover letter is there to support your resume, not restate it. While your resume is a list of your jobs and qualifications, your cover letter is your chance to say what your resume doesn’t: how you meet the job criteria, why you’re a great fit, and what has drawn you to this company. 

A good structure for a cover letter is the following:

  1. An opening paragraph where you introduce yourself and demonstrate why you’re the answer to the problem;
  2. A section containing evidence that backs up your opener (specific examples of how you meet the job criteria);
  3. A strong closing section that briefly reiterates why you’re the right person for the job, with a line about why you’re interested in this particular company. Make this part specific enough to show you understand the business. Your round-off should be enthusiastic, confident, and polite—thank the recruiter for considering your application and finish with a compelling call to action.

Obviously, each job and each applicant is different, so you may need to tweak this formula depending on the circumstances. For example, if you have a gap in your work history, your cover letter is the perfect opportunity to explain it. After all, the hiring manager isn’t going to dock you points because you had a long stay in hospital, bowed out of the corporate world to raise your children, or got laid off during an economic downturn.

4. Don’t be generic

It’s vital that you tailor your cover letter to each role and company. 

Mark Robins, founder of recruitment company Native Gravity, says, “Recruiters spend just seconds scanning an application. We read the same tired phrases day in, day out and can spot a template letter a mile off. It makes the person writing it look lazy and the person reading it switch off.” 

So, do your research on the company—its goals, mission, values, and anything else you can find—and reference what you can in the cover letter, accompanied by why you’re the right choice.

5. Do start strong

If you’ve got only seconds to make a good impression, you need an opening that instantly positions you as the person the company is looking for. 

Robins continues, “Think of your cover letter opening as your elevator pitch on paper: a one-line summary of how you’re the perfect person for the job. If you nail that first impression, not only will you grab my attention, but everything that comes after will confirm that you’re the one.” 

This requires you to ditch the tired old buzzwords that everyone uses (like “driven,” “passionate,” and “hard-working”) and show your value, not tell the recruiter about it.

6. Do match your cover letter to the job description

The hiring process can include several stages. The first will likely involve an applicant tracking system (ATS)—a computer program that scans applications for keywords from the job description. If your match rate isn’t high enough, you won’t make it past the machine to a pair of human eyes. 

A useful tip is to highlight the keywords in the job description and make sure you’ve included them in your cover letter. Even if the company doesn’t use an ATS, this will make it easy for the recruiter to see you’re a good fit. You’ll also want to repeat keywords since this is generally how an ATS rates applicants, but make sure to do so in a way that still reads naturally to a human.

However, don’t throw keywords in for the sake of it. When addressing the job criteria, make sure you’re being specific and contextual. Anyone can say, “I’m a great salesperson,” but where’s the proof? 

Use the STAR model to back up your claims: Briefly present the scenario you worked on, explain the tasks or the plan you came up with to handle the situation, describe what actions you took, and define your results, especially anything tangible or measurable that proves your success. 

7. Do proofread

We’ve all heard of companies throwing out applications due to a misplaced apostrophe or a spelling blunder. Sloppy mistakes will make you look lazy and unprofessional, and that’s never the impression you want to give an employer. 

Don’t be that applicant! Read and reread your cover letter, then have someone else read it and consider hiring a professional for perfect results. Going with a pro is really the best option because it’s nearly impossible to proofread your own work (since you already know what it’s supposed to say), and your friend who majored in English may not have the grammatical finesse to tackle a document as precious as your cover letter.

Does it feel like an overwhelming task to you? Indeed, it is hard to craft a killer cover letter, but you don’t have to do it alone. For help putting together that standout application, reach out to our experts!

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