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
Five cover letter tips you can use A.S.A.P.
By Anish Majumdar, Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW)
This article will go over simple strategies you can use to create a powerful (and succinct) cover letter. Job seekers frequently wonder how to structure this document. Is it separate from a resume? Do I really have to go through the process of creating an entirely new one for every job I apply to? We’ll dispel some of these myths, keep things simple and hopefully get you well on your way to landing more job interviews.
1. Address it to a person whenever possible.
While you can always start a cover letter with “Dear Sir/Dear Madam” this should only be used as a last resort. I can’t stress enough how much of a difference addressing the cover letter to a real person makes when submitting to jobs. Not only does it leap out amongst a sea of anonymous submissions, it sends a clear message that you’re willing to go above and beyond for this opportunity. Check the job posting carefully to see if a hiring manager is listed. Check the employer’s website. If you’re submitting through a connection who works at the company, ask him or her to obtain this information. The extra time you spend here can pay off exponentially in the form of more interviews.
2. Understand a cover letter’s function.
The sole purpose of a cover letter is to pique the interest of the employer to read your resume. Don’t make the mistake of inserting skills and details that can’t be easily followed-up in the resume. Instead, think in terms of creating a “teaser," a very brief introduction that communicates the job position you’re applying for, contains a few relevant skills and accomplishments pulled directly from your resume and promises a follow-up within a stated period of time. Utilizing this approach is the best way to prevent confusion on the part of recruiters and hiring agents, who often scan hundreds of resumes for a particular position.
3. Open strong.
Start the cover letter with a brief paragraph that quickly communicates the position you’re applying for as well as in-demand skills. For example, a candidate for a General Hotel Manager might have an opening paragraph that looks like this:
As a General Hotel Manager, I managed the hotel's overall operation through maintaining established cost and quality standards, maximizing profits, developing and retaining employees and exceeding guest expectations. I am confident in my abilities to excel as a leader at your hotel.
*Quick Tip: Play up those skills which are mentioned frequently in the job posting (and which you possess). This immediately shows that it’s not a “blind” submission while underlining your suitability for the job.
4. Include three to four career highlights.
The best way to structure a resume’s work history is to separate unique responsibilities (in paragraph form) from key accomplishments (in bullets) for every major position you’ve held. Why does this matter when constructing a cover letter? Because this is where you can reap some significant side benefits of using this approach:
After the opening paragraph, include three to four key accomplishment bullets taken directly from your resume. Again, review the job posting to better identify the most relevant bullets to include. For example, a General Hotel Manager might have a bullet that looks like this:
• Managed all sources of revenue including guest rooms, housekeeping, food and beverage, engineering and other departments. Ensured all departments are profitable and maintain strong working relationships.
Including a few career highlights makes an immediate impact in terms of presentation and content…and that’s exactly what you want for a cover letter.
5. Promise to follow-up.
Clearly setting a timeframe with regards to following up and then actually doing so, is something many job seekers neglect to do. Truth is, following up can mean the difference between your submission getting lost in the shuffle and a job interview.
Here’s an example of an effective cover letter closing paragraph:
Please accept this letter and enclosed resume as an introduction to my skills and background. For a more detailed presentation of my offerings and how I can best benefit your organization, feel free to contact me at your earliest convenience to schedule a conference. I’ll also follow up with you in two weeks’ time regarding my candidacy. Thank you in advance for your consideration and I look forward to our conversation.
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About the Author
Anish Majumdar is a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Owner at www.ResumeOrbit.com. 95% of clients report a significant increase in interviews within 30 days, and all work comes backed by a 100% Satisfaction or Money Back Guarantee (in writing).
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• Get Noticed: Write A Cover Letter That Makes You Stand Out
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• 3 Easy Ways To Overcome Resume Writing Challenges