Cover letters are often the first impression you have a chance to make with an employer. Since the stakes are high, this is a place where I suggest you spend at least 15 to 20 minutes per application tailoring your pitch and language to the role and company. Pitch is the key word here. Cover letters are your sales pitch for yourself, why you're a good fit for that company. So you have to be willing to think critically about how you're going to sell yourself. So let's take a look at my job situation. I'm applying for the developmental editor role at KinetEco. We already went through my resume customization. We have that list of key words from the job description and the company research. So I have the beginnings here of the cover letter I would put together for this job; a simple date, a greeting, 3 body paragraphs and my closure, Warm regards, and my information. Now there are a few things I want to call your attention to here. I recommend that you stick with no more than 3 paragraphs for your cover letter. Brevity is your friend. People screening resumes just have seconds oftentimes to spend on each cover letter so grab them with a hook at the beginning, and take them all the way through so they're intrigued to meet you. Here's my 3 paragraph model. The first paragraph sells me and my accomplishments. If I'm doing it right it intrigues you to read the second paragraph. The second paragraph connects the dots between what I've done before and what I need to do. It also intrigues you to read the third paragraph. In the third paragraph, I am hitting home that I've done my research and emphasizing that I could hit the ground running. I'm a connected applicant. I know what's going on in this space. I could very quickly add value to KinetEco. So there are a couple of changes that I want to make based on my keywords, and I'm going to recommend also that you do this check over your cover letter after you have a draft of it. There are a few buzz words that are in the application information that I want to include. Right here I have my author's tell me I help them see their content in a new way, but one of the words that's in the job description is coach. My authors tell me I coach them to see their content in a new way. I'm going to include that. That's just reinforcing that important verb that they had included. Another thing I want to check through for is that I have spelled the company's name correctly in every single place. You can see I have KinetEco up here, but I happened to notice looking through here that I don't have the second E capped down here at the bottom. Referring back to that job post again I know that they spell their name with a capital E for KinetEco, and I want to make sure that consistently I'm referencing the company name correctly. That's important. And then finally I want to encourage you also to do a slow edit pass and read your cover letter backwards word by word. It will help you find mistakes in your writing if you do it that slowly. It forces you to slow down and give some extra thought to each word and make sure it makes sense. You could also hand this document to a trusted friend, and see if they catch any errors that you have missed because you're close to the material. What I want to leave you with about cover letters, and we'll use this as an example again, is keep in mind these 4 things. First of all they're short. These punchy 3 paragraphs are the most you're going to need here. Brevity is always your friend in dealing with recruiters. I want you to imagine that every word you have to use counts against you which isn't really far from the truth. Recruiters and HR professionals are busy. You'll be lucky to get a quick 10 second scan on this letter. Second, they hook you with sentence 1, and give you a steady reason to keep reading every sentence. Sell every line so that you're taking someone to that next line. Make sure you're conveying what your story is and why you stand out. Don't bury it halfway through the letter. Make sure it's right up there in the front. Third, the best cover letters are personal. You can tell from what I've done here, I've both done my research on KinetEco, and I'm linking my skills back to this job and to the company's mission and values. I can't tell you how many times I've screened resumes where someone sent me the same old thing they probably sent 10 other companies in the same day. They know nothing about the role I'm hiring for, or my company, or me, and this doesn't say that the candidate has taken the care to represent themselves which tells me by extension, they may not take the care to represent me and my company in the best light. Finally, the best cover letters are error free. Spelling mistakes and incorrect punctuation or grammar can make you come across looking sloppy and unprofessional which I know is not what you want hiring managers to think of you. Nothing turns a hiring manager off more quickly except perhaps a cover that's too long for them to read, a bad opening hook, or an impersonal quickly dashed off cover. This may seem like a lot of steps and a lot of time spent toward a cover letter, but my news for you is that this is time well spent in your search. Consider this that first chance to pitch yourself so be interesting, likable, motivated, and well researched in order to put your best virtual foot forward. You can see as you read through my cover letter I'm applying for a job that has to do with writing so my goal here in the cover letter was actually to show off those writing abilities to show them what they'd be getting that I can make the connection, that I'm really living what they'd be looking for in a developmental editor in this cover letter. And any time that you can take steps to do the same to have your words match the kind of work you'll do that really positions you to be off to the right start.
It’s a good time to be a job seeker: U.S. job growth is strong, unemployment is on a steady decline, and openings are at an all-time high.
That doesn’t make the search any less daunting. Differentiating yourself from every other job seeker on the market is no small feat, and the monotony of filling out online applications can make the task downright exhausting. That’s where a killer cover letter comes in.
Done right, a great cover letter is like a secret weapon for catching a hiring manager’s attention. Next to your resume, it’s one of the most important, underutilized tools at your disposal.
Here are some cover letter writing tips, and a free, downloadable template, to make yours stand out.
Every cover letter you write should be tailored to the job you’re applying for — just like your resume. Study the job posting carefully, and make a quick list of any essential qualifications.
“Job seekers really struggle with what to say on a cover letter,” says Jessica Holbrook Hernandez, President and CEO of Great Resumes Fast. “Taking a second to think about why you’re applying, and why you’re a good fit for the company, makes the process a lot easier.”
If you’re adding a cover letter to an online application, use a business letter format with a header and contact information. If you’re sending an email, it’s OK to leave out the header, but be sure to provide a phone number (and an attached resume, of course). Make sure you’re clear about the position you’re applying for.
Avoid nameless salutations — it might take a little Google research, and some LinkedIn outreach, but finding the actual name of the position’s hiring manager will score you major brownie points. “Do not start a cover letter with, ‘to whom it may concern,’” Holbrook Hernandez says. “It concerns no one.”
2. Tell a Story
To grab a recruiter’s attention, a good narrative—with a killer opening line—is everything.
“The cover letter is a story,” says Satjot Sawhney, a resume and career strategist with Loft Resumes. “What is the most interesting thing you’re doing that’s relevant to this job?” Use that to guide your letter.
Ideally, the story that drives your resume will focus on a need at the company you’re applying for. If you’re a PR professional, maybe you have a list of clients in an industry the team wants to break into. If you’re in marketing, a successful promotional campaign might be the ticket in. “A hiring manager wants to see results-driven accomplishments with a past employer,” says Holbrook Hernandez. “If you’ve done it before, you can deliver it again.”
If you have a career gap or are switching industries, address it upfront. “If there’s anything unique in your career history, call that out in the beginning,” says professional resume writer Brooke Shipbaugh.
(Here’s a downloadable sample.)
3. Use Bullet Points to Show Impact
Hiring managers are usually slammed with applications, so short, quick cover letters are preferable to bloated ones, says Paul Wolfe, Senior Vice President of human resources at job site Indeed.
“Make your cover letter a brief, bright reference tool,” he says. “The easier you can make it on the recruiter the better.”
Bullet points are a good tool for pulling out numbers-driven results. Job seekers in creative fields like art and design can use bullets to break down their most successful project. Those in more traditional roles (like the one in the template), can hammer off two or three of their most impressive accomplishments.
4. Highlight Culture Fit
It’s often overlooked, but a major function of the cover letter is to show a company how well you’d mesh with the culture.
As you research a potential employer, look for culture cues on the company website, social media, and review sites like Glassdoor. Oftentimes, employers will nod to culture in a job posting. If the ad mentions a “team environment,” it might be good to play up a recent, successful collaboration. If the company wants a “self-starter,” consider including an achievement that proves you don’t need to be micromanaged.
The tone of your letter can also play to culture. “The cover letter is a great place to show [an employer] how you fit into their world,” Shipbaugh says. “Show some personality.”
5. End with an Ask
The goal of a cover letter is to convince the person reading it to make the next move in the hiring process — with a phone call, interview, or otherwise. Ending on a question opens that door without groveling for it.
“You have to approach this with a non-beggar mentality,” Sawhney says. “Having an ‘ask’ levels the playing field.”
Related: What Your Resume Should Look Like in 2018