Is it really necessary to write a cover letter when you apply for a job? Does anyone really read it anyway?
In most cases, the answer to both questions is yes. Writing an impressive cover letter gives you an opportunity to tell prospective employers who you are and why you are the best candidate for the job.
A cover letter is like a sales pitch. If written well, it will catch the eye of the hiring manager and give you a good shot at being advanced to the next round.
Employers want to know you understand their company and why you are a good fit. Writing an impressive cover letter means demonstrating your suitability in a detailed but concise way that leaves the employer wanting to know more.
To make sure your cover letter is the best it can be—and the process as painless as possible—we have put together some great cover letter writing tips to get you started.
Writing a Great Cover Letter
Before you begin writing your cover letter, thoroughly research what the company does, the key characteristics of the job you are applying for, and the company culture. Understand the tone of the company. A startup might be very casual and down-to-earth while a Fortune 500 company might be more formal.
Cover Letter Salutation
Any great cover letter has clean and easy-to-follow formatting. Know who you are talking to. Avoid the generic “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern,” which looks like you didn’t make an effort. Instead, do your research to find the name of the person doing the hiring. Between the company’s website, LinkedIn, and Twitter, you should be able to find the name you are looking for.
The body of your cover letter should have a beginning, middle, and final paragraph. These persuasive paragraphs should convince the hiring manager that you are a good fit for the job and should be invited back for an interview.
Don’t forget that a cover letter is meant to be an introduction—a brief one—to showcase your best qualifications, a little bit of your personality, and to answer any questions the employer posed in the job description. Cover letters shouldn’t be more than a page long, and not more than 250-400 words.
Consider this cover letter road map to guide you:
Head out – “I’m excited about you.”
- In your opening statement, let the reader know why you wrote the letter. For example, “Per my conversation with X connection, I am excited to submit my candidacy for the X position in X company.”
- In one or two sentences, describe specifically what attracts you to the position and the company. It is too generic to say, “I align myself with your business philosophy.” Let the reader know you understand who they are and the unique value of the open position. Bonus: Note a key positive piece of news recently released about the company. You want them to think, “Wow, they really get us!”
- Dynamically connect these points about the company to a highlight in your accomplishments that will intrigue the reader to read on.
Continue on – “Here’s why you should be excited about me.”
- In a deeper analysis than can be deduced from your resume, highlight two to three examples from the experiences on your resume that showcase your relevant talents, skills, and accomplishments.
- Make sure you connect these experiences to the needs of the position and relate them to your points in the first short paragraph when possible.
Reach your destination – “Let’s get together.”
- Thank the reader for their time and consideration.
- Indicate your anticipation of the next steps of the process. For example, “I look forward to further discussing the ways in which my skills can contribute to the needs of your team.”
- State the best ways to contact you by noting your email address and phone number.
Don’t forget to use use your own “voice” in your cover letter. It doesn’t have to be a dry, unfriendly essay. In fact, it should be the opposite.
Showing a bit of your personality will allow a hiring manager to be able to better assess who you are as a person—and what you can potentially do for their company.
Cover Letter Format
Use business letter format and include your basic contact information, the date the letter is written, and the contact information for the addressee. Generally use this format whether submitting your letter in person or online as an attachment or in a form.
Use a simple font and black text. Match the font to your resume, and choose something like Arial, Times New Roman, or other simple fonts.
Think of your letter in terms of three or four paragraphs and no more than one page. Less is often more.
Use a professional closing such as “Sincerely,” “Best Regards,” etc.
Sign and print your name for paper documents, and if you do not have the technology available to include your signature on an online document, you can simply print your name in closing.
Cover Letter Mistakes to Avoid
A Cookie-Cutter Approach
While there are some basic parts of your cover letter that can be used for several jobs, don’t send the same exact cover letter with each application. Take a moment to address your interest in this particular company and this particular job.
You also run the risk of sending the wrong letter to the wrong company. Addressing your letter to one company when it’s meant for another is never a good move.
Keep your cover letter tightly worded and avoid straying off course by being wordy or bringing up off-topic information. Strong cover letters avoid repeating a resume and keeps language personal in a succinct way.
Exhibiting humor that’s in poor taste is bad form in pretty much any situation, but it can be particularly harmful in a cover letter. While you don’t want to be overly serious or heavy, avoid going to the opposite extreme by being too light or frivolous.
Loaded Words and Phrases
Self-promotion (which is what a cover letter involves) can be tricky, and it’s easy to step over the line. Certain words and phrases can be overkill, such as saying you’re the perfect person for the job, or coming off as too picky or demanding.
Get The Help You Need to Write a Great Cover Letter
Although writing an impressive cover letter is not an easy task and requires a lot of understanding, thought, and knowledge, it is well worth the effort when you are invited to the coveted interview.
FlexJobs has career coaches that are ready to assist you with writing and customizing a cover letter. Whether you need another set of eyes on your document, or want an expert’s opinion, our career coaches can help. FlexJobs members get access to this service at a discounted rate.
Photo Credit: bigstockphoto.com
A version of this article was originally published on June 13, 2017.
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