Following the right cover letter tips can make or break your chances of getting a job interview and potentially landing your dream position. However, writing that dreaded cover letter isn’t always the easiest thing to do, especially since you only get one chance to impress a potential employer.
At this point in your life, you likely already know how to write a cover letter and understand why you need one, but it takes more than that to really make yourself stand out in a pool of job applicants. You need to be able to make your application shine brighter than the rest in a pile of other candidates who are just as eager to get hired as you are.
These cover letter tips will help you get noticed and increase your chances of landing that dream job interview. However, if you do need a refresher on how to write a cover letter or want to remind yourself of what to do, watch Episode 59 of the Homework Help Show. In this episode, our host Cath Anne walks you through the process and shows you what you need to do to write an effective cover letter.
The hands of a hiring manager reviewing a candidate’s resume on their desk
Letter Basics: Tips for Any Professional Letter
Before we share our list of cover letter tips, we want to start with some professional letter basics that you should always know.
● Include up to date contact information, even if it’s already in your application and your resume.
● Make sure your writing flows well and communicates your point effectively. Read our article on how to improve your writing skills if you need some pointers.
● Add a personal touch. Say hello and address the recipient directly.
● Be polite, professional, and don’t use slang.
● Use a clean, readable font that’s accessible in any word processor. Stick to something like Times New Roman, Arial, or Georgia, and don’t make the size too small. 12 point font is usually the best bet.
● End with a call-to-action requesting an interview or call. Be polite about it, but let them know what it is you want. Say something like, “I would love to tell you more about my skills and experience in an interview and am eagerly awaiting your response.”
● Use a professional sign-off. There’s no need to get fancy or elegant at the end of a cover letter. “Sincerely” or “best wishes” works perfectly fine in this type of scenario.
Address Your Letter to the Right Person
Always make sure that you are writing to someone and addressing them personally. It is a letter, after all. But you also need to make sure it’s being written to the right person.
Typically, the person you want to address your cover letter to is the company’s hiring manager. Smaller companies may not have the staff to have a separate hiring manager, but most of the time someone will be designated in this role.
Sometimes the hiring manager’s name will be written in the job posting, or the application will tell you who to address your application to. However, there may be other times where you’re going to have to do a little bit of research to find the right person. If you can’t find a name written in the job posting, check the company’s website under their About Us page or their list of company staff if they have one.
When in doubt, don’t be afraid to call the company and ask them who you should address your letter to. Your future employer will most likely be impressed that you were resourceful enough to dig around for this information instead of accepting defeat and writing a generic “dear sir or madam” greeting.
A hiring manager and female candidate sitting in a private job interview
Don’t Use a Generic Cover Letter
Once upon a time, someone might have advised you to keep a generic cover letter on hand to send to many jobs at once or to distribute to many employers and maximize your chances at getting an interview.
However, these aren’t good cover letter tips to follow anymore for a few different reasons. First of all, when you do this, you’re taking a major risk that you’ll forget to change something (like the name of the company you’re applying to). Not only that, but the hiring manager reading your cover letter might be looking for specific qualifications that are listed in their job description that might not be included in a generic cover letter you intend to send to everyone.
A dedicated cover letter tailored to the specific job posting is a great way to show your potential employer that you’re eager to work for them and you really want the job. It’s also a great way to make sure you show your future employer how perfect you are for the position, and why your skills would bring value to their team.
Another important point to consider as well is the fact that just because you might not want to take the time out to write separate cover letters for different jobs you’re applying to doesn’t mean other candidates will feel the same. So, while you might be submitting a generic cover letter, someone else might be submitting one that’s carefully written and tailored specifically to that job’s requirements. Guess which one of those candidates the hiring manager will be more impressed with? Here’s a hint: it’s not the generic one.
Start With a Hook
Just like any academic essay or paper you write, you need to grab your reader’s attention right off the bat to make a great first impression. Many people tend to begin their cover letters with sentences like, “I am writing to apply for the [position name] with your company.” A sentence like this is not only boring and plain, but overused. The hiring manager has likely seen 20 resumes that day with this same opening line, and that’s a great way to get your application tossed in the discard pile.
This does not mean you should start your introduction with something flashy or cliche, but it should be something a little different than the standard sentence above. Try to mix it up and let them know why you’re different from every other person submitting a resume to this position.
If the company you’re applying to has a more fun and casual tone, feel free to get a little personal with your hook. For example, here’s a great opening line for a quirky used bookstore:
Ever since I was a child, I dreamed of working in an environment where I could be surrounded by that comforting used book smell. I was very excited to see that you were hiring for this very role and would love to be considered for the sales associate position with your team.
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Include Keywords and Phrases From the Job Description
This is one of those cover letter tips that goes along with the one above. When you’re tailoring your letter to a specific job, make sure you include keywords and key phrases from the specific job description itself.
Go through the description carefully and pick out a few of the things you think would be the most important to them, and then describe your matching experiences and skills using those exact same words. For example, if an employer is looking for someone with great time management skills, you can mention how you developed excellent time management skills by balancing a part-time job with school and extracurricular activities.
Not only will doing this help you showcase just how perfect you are for the job, it will also help you get your resume noticed if the company uses resume-filtering programs or software. Bigger companies can receive hundreds of resumes and applications at a time, and the hiring manager doesn’t have time to spend their entire day combing through page after page of text to narrow down their options. This resume-filtering software, also known as an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), will scan letters and resumes for specific keywords that match what they’re looking for.
If you want to double-check that your cover letter is ATS-friendly, try a website like Jobscan that will let you upload your letter and a job description (use the one you’re applying for, of course). This will tell you if you’ve properly optimized your letter for that description.
Keep it Short and Sweet
A lengthy letter may have been ideal back in the day, but in 2021, your cover letter needs to be short, direct, and easy to absorb. In fact, writing a very lengthy cover letter can actually backfire on you and make you come off as an unappealing candidate.
Here are some quick tips on sticking to the right length for an effective cover letter:
● Stick to one page in length at the most.
● Make each paragraph short and easy to read. Aim for no more than 5 sentences per paragraph.
● Try to stick to 300-500 words. This is about one single-spaced page length in most word processing programs.
● Don’t shorten words or use abbreviations just to cut your word count down. This makes you appear too casual and unprofessional.
Don’t Just Repeat What’s on Your Resume
You will find this tidbit on any list of cover letter tips because it’s something a lot of people tend to overlook. So many cover letters begin with rehashing information from a resume, like education and past jobs, without adding anything more personal to the mix. Future employers don’t want to read the same thing they just read on your application and/or your resume.
Your cover letter is meant to be sent in addition to your resume, so anything you mention on your resume will already be seen by the hiring manager. Not only that, but your cover letter gives you the opportunity to share more details about any experiences that you may not have a spot for on your application.
This is the perfect opportunity to expand on any of your skills or experiences that would make you a great fit for the job. For example, if you are applying for a job that requires you to interact with children and you spent a lot of time taking care of your younger siblings, mention that. If you did something in the past that you were really proud of that would fit in with your field, like a successful fundraising campaign, talk about that.
Explain Any Potential Red Flags With Your Application
If there’s anything on your resume or in your application that might be interpreted as a red flag or be a concern for a hiring manager, address it and explain it in your cover letter.
You may not think that pointing out a potential issue is a good idea because it would bring attention to that problem. However, chances are, the hiring manager is looking for those flags and would make an assumption about it. When your career is on the line, it’s best to be proactive and not just hope that one of those details will be overlooked in your favour.
Potential issues could be anything such as:
● A gap in employment
● Lack of education in the field (if you have similar experience instead)
● A gap in your education (such as if you took a gap year or delayed your start at school)
If you aren’t sure whether you have a red flag in your resume or not, this article from staffing agency Robert Half has a list of the top 10 issues employers are weary about.
Man sitting in a job interview discussing his resume with two hiring managers
Use the Right Formatting
One of the easiest, yet most important, cover letter tips to follow is making sure you’re formatting it correctly. This goes for both the setup and the contents of your letter.
Any cover letter written in print form or typed and printed should adhere to a typical business letter format. Put your contact information in the top left corner, then the date, and then the hiring manager’s contact information after that. This usually looks more professional when each piece of information is on its own line separately (like you would with the title, date, and course number on an essay). However, if you’re worried about saving space, it’s fine to include all of your contact information on one line, the date on its own line, and the hiring manager’s contact information on one line.
Each paragraph should follow a basic format as well. Your first paragraph should include information about who you are and why you’re applying (as well as the position you’re applying for). The second paragraph should focus on what you have to offer and why you’d be a good fit for their company. Your last paragraph should explain how they can get in touch with you and thank them for their time.
Don’t Make it All About You
When most people sit down to write a cover letter for a job application, they tend to start going on and on about their qualifications, why they are a great candidate, the education they completed, and why they want the job. These are all things you should absolutely include, but you also want to make sure you show your employer what’s in it for them. Your potential employer already knows you want the job; otherwise, you wouldn’t be applying in the first place. What they’re really looking for is how well you’d fit in with their team and how great a match you’d be for their company values, culture, and bottom line.
Talk about the value you bring to the table and how your skills or experiences will help their company grow. Sell yourself as someone who is really going to make a difference on their team and remind them they’d be missing out on an amazing opportunity if they passed you up. Don’t use those specific words, of course, but communicate this clearly in your letter.
A company is hiring a new team member because they need something you can potentially provide, or have a problem they need to solve (such as a staffing issue or a specific skill set to fill a gap on their current team).
Woman happy after submitting an effective cover letter on her laptop
Avoid Overused Buzzwords
Your letter should be genuine and reflect your own individual personality. That means avoiding those overused buzzwords everyone puts on their resume. Everyone includes these words to try to appeal to the hiring manager, but when they get used so often they begin to lose their value and meaning.
Here are some common buzzwords you should avoid:
● Team player
● Hard worker
● Think outside the box
● Problem solver
This isn’t to say that companies aren’t looking for a go-getter who is a hard worker and detail-oriented. They’re just tired of potential candidates throwing those words in their cover letters and resumes without putting actual meaning behind them or making an effort to write something original.
Instead of these buzzwords, try using power words instead. The Balance Careers has a great list of power words to use on your resume and cover letter that will showcase those same skills without eliciting a giant eye roll from the hiring manager.
Double-Check the Application Instructions
Sometimes a job posting will have specific instructions in it, and sometimes those instructions include something they want you to write in your cover letter. Make sure you double-check all of the instructions in the posting and don’t miss any small details. This can get your entire application tossed aside no matter how qualified or perfect for the job you are.
In some cases, the employer may use application instructions as a test to determine how well you pay attention to detail and follow instructions. No one wants to hire a candidate that doesn’t follow instructions – especially at an entry level job.
For example, if you’re applying for a creative position, such as a graphic designer or social media manager, a job posting might ask you to include links to your portfolio in your cover letter. Some job postings might also ask you to save your letter with a specific title format, or use a specific subject line to help them filter their email applications. This is especially important for larger companies that might be hiring for multiple different positions and storing them all in one place (like one email address for a hiring manager responsible for every role).
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Drop Your Knowledge About the Company
One of the smaller cover letter tips that sometimes gets overlooked is to add in your knowledge, interest, or love for the company you’re applying to. This is a seasoned piece of advice that you can always use in the application process – including in your interview.
Hiring managers love to hear that you’ve done your homework. If you really love this company and are just dying to be a part of it, tell them and explain why! You can get even more bonus points if you do a little research to find the company’s mission statement and/or values, and then mention those in your letter. If you have a personal connection or treasured story about the company you should mention that, too.
Chances are if you do land a job interview, your hiring manager will ask you what you know about the company or why you chose to apply to that company. They might even ask you if you know the company values or mission statement. This helps you be prepared for that step and let them know ahead of time that you know about them and what they’re all about.
You can include this in its own small paragraph or in the second last paragraph (before you discuss how you can be contacted and thank the recipient for their time).
Never, Ever Lie on Your Cover Letter
No list of cover letter tips will ever tell you to lie on your application, resume, or CV, but so many people still do this because they think it will give them a better chance at landing the job. Sure, this might land you the job, but what do you think will happen on your first day when it’s obvious that you don’t actually know what you’re doing?
Don’t ever lie in your cover letter and claim you have certain qualifications, skills, or experiences if you don’t actually have them. No one wants to hire a dishonest candidate, and trust us when we say your employer will absolutely know that you lied.
Even if you’re applying for a job you know you aren’t the most qualified for, that is no justification to fudge the details. Believe in yourself and focus on the skills and experiences you do have that make you who you are.
Two hiring managers interviewing a female candidate for a job
Always Proofread Everything You Write
Grammar errors, typos, and spelling mistakes in a cover letter or resume is the fastest and easiest way to get your application rejected. Just one small typo or the wrong use of “their” could be enough to get you passed over for another candidate – even if you’re perfect for the job.
If you’re applying for a job that lists “attention to detail” in the qualifications section, and you submit a cover letter with typos or grammar errors, you are basically telling that hiring manager that you don’t meet their standards right off the bat. Not only that, but not proofreading your work shows that you didn’t put a lot of effort into your application. It makes you appear lazy and uncaring – not an ideal combination for someone who might be a potential employee. This is an especially bad look given that there are so many free resources out there that make it extremely easy to catch typos and mistakes, like Grammarly and your processor’s spell check function.
Before you write your letter, brush up on your grammar skills with our punctuation marks guide, or our guide to the different types of sentences in English. After you write your letter, get an extra set of eyes on it to proofread it for you. If you’re still in school, ask your institution’s career center to take a look at it, or hire a professional editing company to get an experienced proofreader to edit and provide constructive feedback.
Send a Follow-up Email After You Submit Your Application
Many candidates often overlook the value of sending a nice follow-up email within a reasonable time after you submit a job application. This is a great way to show that you really want the job, to keep you at the top of your hiring manager’s mind, and to make sure that your application actually went through.
With a follow-up email, however, you need to make sure you get the logistics right. This means getting the timing right – you don’t want to send it too soon, but you also don’t want to wait too long and risk the position being filled before you get the chance to interview with them. You also need to make sure it’s well-written, professional, and courteous.
For more information and advice on what a follow-up email is, when you should send one, and what you should include in one, check out our blog on how to write a follow-up email. This blog will tell you everything you need to know about a follow-up email, and how to make sure you’re making the best impression possible.
Male graduate wearing a suit walking into his job interview
Final Quick Tips For Cover Letters and Job Applications
Here are a few final quick tips to use when you’re applying for jobs and sending out cover letters:
● Be confident, but not arrogant. Show your future employer that you believe in yourself and are confident you can handle the job without filling up your letter entirely with self-brags and exaggerated claims.
● If someone you know works at the company and recommended you, mention them. However, don’t name-drop people you know if you haven’t already talked to them first.
● Get a sense of the company’s work culture and tone by taking some time to browse their website to show you’re a great match.
● Don’t bother including a line that says “references available upon request.” At this point in the game, everyone has references and if a hiring manager wants to talk to your references, they’ll ask for them when they need them.
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If you’ve read through all of these cover letter tips and still aren’t sure your letter is up to par, have a professional take care of it for you. When it comes to your future, you can’t be too cautious, and a professional will know exactly how to write your letter to catch the attention of any hiring manager.
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