Your cover letter is your second and sometimes final opportunity to secure an interview after your resume. A well-written cover letter is your chance to distinguish yourself from other applicants, selling yourself as an intriguing candidate beyond the standard bullet-pointed accomplishments of a resume.
The Content of a Cover Letter
Find a Name
Where possible, always address your cover letter to a specific individual. It makes your cover letter more personalized and lets the prospective employer know not only that you put in the effort to find out who to contact but also that you’ve customized your letter to them. If a job description doesn’t specify a person to address, contact the company and ask.
You don’t have to rewrite your entire cover letter for every application but always make sure to tweak it to address the specific job posting you’re applying for. Use the job description’s keywords and change the examples to the ones which best suit the qualifications you need to exemplify. Prospective employers will recognize generic cover letters and sending them out will only lead to one place, the trash can.
Don’t Be a Parrot
Never repeat the content of your resume. Your cover letter is your opportunity to elaborate on your skills and how great you are but don’t just rehash what you’ve already said. Think of other situations where you utilized your skills, the more interesting and impressive the better!
Don’t Just State It, Prove It
Always support the claims you make in your cover letter. It’s not enough to say you have the skills they want, you have to prove it. Describe situations where you used certain important skills they’re looking for to resolve issues. If problem- solving is key, make sure to describe that time your previous employer’s computer system went down and you introduced the temporary manual process that saved the day.
Hiring managers read hundreds of cover letters a day. After a while, they all just blend together. Don’t just write another bland, cliché-filled document. You should always be appropriate and professional, but don’t be afraid to inject a little humor and personality into your writing. A well-placed joke will make the hiring manager smile and go a long way to making you memorable.
It’s Not About You
Your family may care about your career aspirations and how the job you’re applying for can help you but prospective employers definitely don’t. Always frame everything in terms of what you can offer them.
Your cover letter should be just as well-written as your resume. If it has any spelling or grammatical errors, you’re headed for the rejection pile. So, just as for that resume, read it, re-read it, ask someone else to read it and then leave it overnight before re- reading it again. If after this you still can’t find any errors then you can send it off.
Phone that Friend
If you look back at the resume section, you’ll remember I said it’s important to have someone else read over your work before sending it off. This goes double for your cover letter. With a letter, there are many more opportunities for misunderstanding than a bulleted list. So have some fresh eyes takea look. If your friend or family member can’t understand what you’re trying to say then a hiring manager certainly won’t.
Make it a Letter
The clue is in the name but your cover letter should always be drafted as a standard professional letter with the appropriate greeting and sign off.
A cover letter should fill at most half a page. Just as with the resume, you can be the best candidate in the world but no hiring manager is going to put in the effort to read even a one page document when they have 100 other applications to sift through. So save some of it for the interview and keep it short.
Easy on the Eye
Make sure to avoid block text in your cover letter. If you’re concise this should never be a problem, but large amounts of text is off-putting to the person faced with reading it. So use your spacing wisely and don’t forget to paragraph!
Send it as a PDF
If possible always paste your cover letter into the body of an email to avoid landing in the spam folder, but if the job posting asks for a copy always provide it in PDF format.