An impactful cover letter can be the difference between your resume being seen or overlooked. Knowing how to write a cover letter can help you land the job you've been dreaming of. In this article, we discuss why a cover letter is vital to creating a positive first impression along with 12 tips to crafting an attention-grabbing cover letter.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is an integral part of the job application process. In fact, some hiring managers see a cover letter as the most crucial part of an application. A cover letter is a three- to four-paragraph letter that accompanies your resume when applying for a position. It expresses your interest in the company and role, and gives you the opportunity to make a good first impression. A well-written cover letter expands beyond your resume and showcases your unique strengths and skills.
Why is a cover letter important?
A resume summarizes your experience and qualifications, while a cover letter allows you to expand on who you are and what qualities you bring to a professional environment. It's your opportunity to express your personality and enthusiasm and elaborate on the most important achievements on your resume.
Recruiters and hiring managers have limited time to review job applications in detail. A strong cover letter can capture and hold a recruiter's attention while convincing them you are the best candidate for the position.
How to structure a cover letter
When crafting your cover letter, remember it is a professional document that acts as a first impression. Be sure to follow these nine steps when writing your cover letter:
- include your name, address and contact information
- include the full date
- include the recipient's name and address
- introduce yourself
- make your opening paragraph about your interest in the position
- include your background
- focus on your qualifications
- end with the things you believe distinguish you from other candidates
- conclude with an appropriate salutation and include your signature
12 Tips for crafting a great cover letter
Many generic templates are available, but crafting an impactful cover letter takes thought, time and research. Here are 12 tips to consider that make your cover letter stand out:
1. Find a direct hiring contact
A direct hiring contact is often included within a job posting. If it is, be sure to include the contact's full name in your cover letter. If no hiring contact has been provided, do some research about the company. Visit the company's website and see if a personnel directory is available. You can also search various business sites and social media platforms. Another option is to call the company and ask reception for the name and proper spelling of the hiring manager or recruiter.
Using a person's full name within the greeting of your cover letter increases the likelihood of it being read, as it creates an instant rapport with the reader. It demonstrates that you pay attention to detail and makes a good first impression.
Be cautious of using old-fashioned greetings such as "To Whom It May Concern," or "Dear Sir or Madam."
2. Make it unique
While using a copy and paste template for your cover letter may save you time, it won't necessarily land you the perfect job. Seasoned hiring managers and recruiters can spot a generic cover letter. Only a well-written, customized cover letter leaves a lasting impression and accurately highlights the skills and qualities that make you an excellent fit for the job.
Take time to read the job description and review information about the company carefully. Research the mission and vision statements of the organization and learn about what they do. Sprinkle your understanding of this knowledge into your cover letter by connecting your skills and qualifications to how you can contribute to their success.
3. Grab their attention with a great opening
Beginning your cover letter with a strong introduction grabs the reader's attention and encourages them to continue reading. Instead of starting with the standard "I am writing to express interest in applying for the position of...", consider creating a powerful opening statement that sparks curiosity and interest. Some ideas to consider are starting with a relevant passion, a genuine enthusiasm about the company, a unique and relevant accomplishment or highlighting a mutual connection.
4. Use keywords from the job description
Be sure to read through the job description carefully, looking for keywords, skills and requirements. Use this information to craft your cover letter to highlight the same qualifications you possess. This allows you to tailor your cover letter to the exact qualities the company is seeking for the position.
5. What's in it for them?
Even though highlighting your unique skills and experience is essential, it makes a more significant impact to demonstrate how your skills can benefit the company. Asking yourself, "what's in it for them?" can help you craft a strong cover letter that allows the reader to imagine how your skills can be of use. Identify the company or position's needs and demonstrate how your unique set of qualities can meet them.
6. Reflect your personality and enthusiasm
Although it's essential to remain professional when writing a cover letter, it is equally important for your personality and enthusiasm to shine through. The reader can identify authentic enthusiasm by the words you choose. Be clear and use a tone that reflects your values and genuine interest in working with them.
7. Showcase the right skills
After reading the job description, you should have a clear idea of the specific skills the position requires. Be sure to showcase that you have what the company is seeking. This is especially important if your previous experience may not be directly related or obvious to the hiring manager. For example, if you are pivoting your career, focus on how your skills are transferrable to the role you're applying for. Focus on compatible skills that help recruiters see the value of seemingly unrelated past work experience.
8. Highlight experience with specific examples and numbers
When writing about your previous work experience, highlight accomplishments and achievements with specific examples. Provide details like increased revenue, percentages of savings and quantifiable growth. For example, writing "I increased territory sales by 15% over six months" is much more impactful than "I increased territory sales." If you don't know the exact figures, you can estimate, but be sure to remain truthful and accurate.
9. Address concerns, like an employment gap
If there are areas of your resume that may raise some questions, you can use your cover letter to address them. If there is a gap in your employment history, this is an opportunity to provide insight to the hiring manager or recruiter. For example, if you have been out of work, explain what you have done to maintain and develop your skills during the gap.
10. Include a call to action
After writing the body of your cover letter, you want to include a call to action. Tell the reader what you want their next step to be, and what you intend to do. For example, you might tell the hiring manager that you'll follow up with them in a few days. You can also include a way for the reader to follow up with you.
11. Finish strong
Conclude your cover letter with enthusiasm about the company and the position you're applying for. Sign off with a professional closing statement and include your full name. Be sure to proofread the letter to check for punctuation, grammar and spelling. Read the letter out loud to catch mistakes that can take away from the letter's flow or credibility. And if in doubt, have a friend or colleague read your cover letter to make sure the letter is polished before sending your application.
12. Follow the instructions inside the job posting
Finally, be sure to follow the instructions inside the job posting for submission. If the job posting requests that you send your cover letter and resume by email as an attachment, be sure to follow those directions. Typically, acceptable email attachments are Microsoft Word or PDF files. The job posting may indicate that you need to submit your application through an online portal. If that is the case, follow the instruction and do not email the hiring manager or recruiter directly.