How to Write a Cover Letter That Will Stand Out

By Robert Half on September 1, 2020 at 11:30am

In the age of the digital recruiting, is it still important to know how to write a cover letter?

The short answer: Yes! 

Yet, far too often, job seekers treat the cover letter as an afterthought to writing a resume. Or they don't bother to write one at all.

Your cover letter is your introduction to a company and an opportunity to make a great first impression on a prospective employer. So don't squander it.

Today, a cover letter, like your resume, is not typically hard copy mailed to an employer. In fact, it may not be a letter at all. The savviest job seekers still manage to include its modern equivalent somewhere in the body of an email message or an online job application. Someone who takes the time and effort to do this will have a leg up.

Here are tips for writing cover letters that will convince hiring managers and HR professionals to interview you.

1. Don't just rehash your resume

What's the first thing to know about how to write a cover letter? Your words should do more than restate salient details from your resume. Check out this brief checklist of important functions of a cover letter:

  • Draw attention to specific skills and experience that make you an ideal candidate.
  • Mention other relevant skills your resume may not illustrate.
  • Explain why you would love to have the job in question.
  • Show you've done research on the company, its mission and key leadership.

2. Tailor your cover letter to a specific job

Don’t use a one-size-fits-all cover letter template for all the positions you apply for. If you do, you’re missing the point: Only a letter that’s targeted to the job at hand will make a positive impression. Write a cover letter employers can't ignore by tying it to the elements of the job that match your unique skills and experience. What are they asking for that you’re especially good at? Those are the points to stress in the cover letter.

Just as important, gather facts and figures that support your claims. For example, if you're applying for a managerial role, mention the size of teams and budgets you’ve managed. If it’s a sales role, describe specific sales goals you've achieved.

In addition to highlighting your talents, you can further personalize your cover letter by demonstrating your familiarity with the specific industry, employer and type of position.    

3. Be proud of your past accomplishments

Companies want confident employees who love their work. They know these are the people who tend to perform better, serve as stronger team members and have greater potential to grow along with the business. Don’t hesitate to brag a little about your most pertinent achievements.

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4. Keep it brief

The barrage of information coming at all of us today has created attention spans that are shorter than ever before. Cover letters are no exception. Managers are often inundated with applications, so economy of words matters. Keep your cover letter to no more than one page if printed. Short is sweet.

5. Address the hiring manager personally

Just as you personalize your resume to the role, you should also address the cover letter to the person actually hiring for the position. If it’s not spelled out in the job posting, call the employer's main phone number and ask for the name and title of the hiring manager. If you’re still in school or just out, your career services office may be able to help you identify the right contact at a company.

6. Use keywords from the job description

Many employers use resume-filtering software that scans for keywords and evaluates how closely resumes and cover letters match the preferred skills and experience. That means your cover letter should incorporate key phrases you've identified in the job description — if they honestly match with your background and strengths. During the writing process, carefully review the job ad for the type of degree required, the number of years' experience needed, specified software skills, organization and communication abilities, and project management background.

7. Address any concerns

The cover letter also is a place to preemptively explain anything that might give a hiring manager pause, such as a gap in employment. If you have been out of work, briefly explain what you’ve done to keep your skills up to date.

8. Proofread your cover letter!

Last, but decidedly not least, once you're convinced you've made a strong argument for your candidacy, it's time to proofread your work. Typos signal carelessness or a cavalier attitude to an employer. Even a single typographical error can damage your chances of landing an interview. After you've given your letter a final polish, ask a friend with strong grammar, punctuation and spelling skills to review it. Consider providing a copy of the job posting so your friend can make sure you've hit all the right points.

Looking for more cover letter tips? Read about how to write a cover letter closing now!

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