The cover letter helps you “sell yourself” to the company, exhibit interest in the business or a particular job opening, attract attention to your professional profile and prompt the reader to call you for an interview.
Often the cover letter is the very first contact you will have with a potential employer, therefore, it’s important that you keep everything concise, well-formatted, and to-the-point, in order to persuade the employer to go through your resume with much greater interest than the usual. As a result, you not only have the opportunity to stand out from other applicants but also increase your odds of receiving an affirmative response.
What should you include in the cover letter?
A cover letter usually has three sections—the introduction, body, and closing—which must include the following:
- What interests you about the organization and job profile that you’re applying for.
- Why the employer should consider you over other applicants.
- When and how can you get in touch with them for follow up or to schedule a quick chat. Alternatively, if you’re counting on the employer to reach out to you first, then it’s important to have your contact information included, as well.
The opening of your cover letter should seize an employer’s interest. Start by mentioning the exact position you are applying for or what your career objectives are, and don’t forget to be upfront about where you first heard about the job vacancy.
“Starting with something that immediately connects you to the company is essential—something that tells the company that this is not a generic cover letter,” says Melody Godfred, a Muse career coach, who has gone over thousands of cover letters during her career. “Even if your second paragraph is something that doesn’t ever change, that first intro is where you have to say something that tells the employer, ‘I wrote this just for you.’”
The body of your cover letter should ideally be 2-3 paragraphs and should confirm that you’ve read the job description put out by the employer and understand the complexity of the position by outlining how your educational background and professional qualifications are related to the same. Remember to give specific examples of the talents, abilities and/or qualities from your resume that you’re proud and believe make you a specially strong candidate for the role.
Do not make the common mistake of simply repeating what you’ve stated in your CV or resume. This section should illustrate exactly how you think your experience can help the organization. “These two documents need to complement each other in order for you to present a cohesive version of yourself. While your resume outlines what you can do in general, your cover letter explains what you can do for the company,” says Nina Semczuk, Head of SEO Content Company at Fairygodboss.
Additionally, it’s important that you talk about what you’re planning to bring to the table. Study the content, branding, and culture of the company you’re applying for. Pay very close attention to the team or department that you’d be interested in joining. Take note of the fields/areas that you can personally contribute to and accordingly add a few sentences in your cover letter about the changes you can bring to further company growth.
“You might not know this, but it’s actually really obvious when someone simply regurgitates a few details from an “About Us” page to try and prove that he or she understands what the company stands for,” explains Richard Moy, Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow, “Even if you’ve just learned about its existence, try opening with something more personal about why the organization’s work resonates with you and why you are just so excited to be applying.”
Call-to-action & Closing:
Given that your goal is to ensure an interview call, it’s important that you create a flow of action that encourages the employer to do so. In your closing, make sure that you propose the next steps that you’d like the reader to take, or what you plan to do in order to maintain contact. For example, this can be in the form of a request for an interview/feedback call, or mention a statement of intent to follow up in the immediate future with a call.
Remember to sign your letter with your contact information, including your phone number (on which you’re readily available) and email address. You can also specify the hours during the day that you’re easy to reach for the convenience of the employer.
Lisa Siva, the founder of Career Hackers, recommends that you, “close with confidence”.
“Everyone else will compete on how many buzzwords they can stuff in a sentence. They’ll swear up and down how passionate they are and how hard they work,” she elaborates. The trick is to, “seal the deal with a sentence that displays confidence, competence, and a genuine interest in the company.”
For example, saying, ‘I’d love to know more about your digital marketing requirements and how I can help!” is so much better than ending with a half-hearted, “Hope to hear from you soon!”
What other things should I keep in mind while writing an effective cover letter?
Use an industry-wide trusted business format:
The most commonly-used and highly-recommended format that you can use for your cover letter is the full-block style. Alternatively, there are a variety of cover letter resources available on the internet that you can refer to until you find one that fits your requirements and suits your needs. Look at different samples of actual cover letters that other people have used while job searching successfully, and personalize it to reflect your personality.
That being said, it’s also important to ensure that your cover letter is easily accessible. Why? Alyse Kalish, Editor of Muse, explains—”It would be nice if everyone used the exact same program, brand of computer, and font as you, but this just isn’t the case. Which means there’s always a possibility that that pretty and neat cover letter on your PC won’t look so pretty and neat on the hiring manager’s Mac.”
As a result, she recommends that you start by downloading your cover letter as a PDF and check if it looks good on more than one device, including a desktop and a phone. The best part? Sending a PDF means that anyone can easily open your cover letter without Microsoft Word, too!
Use non-sexist language whenever possible:
Make a conscious effort to address every letter to an appropriate person with their name and title, instead of starting with, ‘To whomever, it may concern to.’
In case you are responding to a blind ad, where you don’t have a way of getting the name of a specific individual to contact, avoid using Dear Sir/Madam. Instead, opt for a gender-neutral, ‘Dear Director of Human Resources’ or ‘Dear Hiring Official’ as an appropriate salutation, however, remember to do this only when it’s been established that you cannot get access to get a specific name.
“Just mosey over to LinkedIn and do a People search using the company’s name as your search term. Scroll through the people working at that company until you find someone who appears to be the hiring manager. If you can’t find a logical manager, try locating an internal recruiter, the head of staffing or, in smaller companies, the head of HR. Address your masterpiece to that person. Your effort will be noted and appreciated,” says Jenny Foss, Career Strategist, and the voice of the famous career blog JobJenny.
Limit your letter to not more than one page:
Clear, succinct writing ensures that you tell the employer everything that you need to say in as little words as possible. Ideally, cover letters should not be more than one page and are restricted to more or less 5 paragraphs.
“In general, for resumes and cover letters alike, don’t go over a page. Unless you’re applying for a managerial or executive position, it’s unlikely a recruiter would look beyond your first page of materials anyway,” advises Lily Zhang, Manager of Graduate Student Professional Development at the MIT Media Lab.
According to a recent Orange County Resume Survey, nearly 70 percent of employers and hiring managers prefer a cover letter that’s half a page (almost 250 words) or “the shorter the better” approach.
Avoid overusing the word “I”:
The cover letter is as much about the company you’re applying to, as it is about you. For example, instead of saying “I am attaching a copy of my resume below,” you can rephrase the sentence to, “Enclosed you’ll find a copy of my resume.” As a basic rule of thumb, avoid using “I” more than two times per paragraph.
“Your cover letter is not your autobiography,” explains Kim Isaacs, the resume expert at Monster.com, “The focus should be on how you meet an employer’s needs, not on your life story. Avoid the perception of being self-centered by minimizing your use of the word “I,” especially at the beginning of your sentences.”
Use attention-grabbing adjectives and action verbs:
When defining yourself and listing your qualifications, try using adjectives and action verbs to add character and pique the interest of the employer. Using action verbs to describe your acquired skills and past experiences to potential employers makes your cover letter way more exciting than the rest of the candidates.
For example, if you led a project at a previous job, use words like, coordinated, executed, headed, oversaw, or orchestrated. If your contribution helped the company save time or money, use words like, consolidated, deducted, yielded, or conserved. If you successfully increased revenue, or customer satisfaction, use words like amplified, enhanced, accelerated, boosted, maximized or sustained. Were you single-handedly managing a team? Try using aligned, directed, cultivated, mobilized, shaped, facilitated or enabled.
Proofread, proofread, proofread:
Using a spell-check on your cover is a no-brainer, however, having your computer/laptop scan for mistakes isn’t exactly the same as editing. Muse recommends that you “set your letter aside for a day or even a few hours, and then read through it again with fresh eyes—you’ll probably notice some changes you want to make. You might even want to ask a friend or family member to give it a look.”
“Remember, one spelling or grammar mistake can be all it takes to turn off the hiring manager—especially if writing skills are an important part of the role you’re applying for.”
For some extra help, you can also take a look at the Hemingway app to test your cover letter for readability. Once you run your text through their editor, the app will highlight sections that are too verbose, use passive voice when active would’ve worked better, or are loaded with decorative vocabulary when merely being simplistic will do the trick. Of course, you’re not obligated to take all of its suggestions into account, but it’s a handy way to make sure that your cover letter is ready to make a good first impression!
Additionally, Sara McCord, who frequently covers the career beat for reputed publishers like Mashable, Business Insider, CNBC and TIME, recommends that you go “old school” when it comes to adding final edits to your cover letter. “Print your cover letter and then read it out loud,” she says, “You’ll be surprised how often this tactic will show you that you’re actually missing a “the” and that without that three-letter word, your big, powerful sentence doesn’t make sense.”
Your cover letter gives you a valuable opportunity to show potential employers why you’re uniquely qualified for a vacant position at their company. It’s common for a lot of people to bury their potential in cliché opening statements, misplaced buzzwords and weak closing paragraphs. Regardless of whether you’re a recent grad applying for an entry-level position or a C-level executive with years of experience under your belt, a well-written cover letter can make or break your chances of landing a job you’ve always dreamed of.