How to Write a Cover Letter That Will Stand Out From the Rest

By Robert Half May 15, 2018 at 7:00am
  • 90% of executives say writing cover letters is valuable, according to a Robert Half survey.
  • Job seekers can help themselves by tailoring their cover letters to specific employers.
  • Incorporating keywords that match terms in the job posting can help job seekers with companies that use resume-filtering software.

In the age of the digital recruiting, is it important to know how to write a cover letter anymore? The short answer: Yes. Surprising to some, cover letters matter more now than ever.   

In fact, a Robert Half poll found that 90 percent of executives consider cover letters a valuable tool when assessing job candidates. Yet, far too often, job seekers treat them as afterthoughts to the writing a resume.

Your cover letter is your introduction to a company and an opportunity to make a good first impression on your prospective employer. So don't squander it. Resumes, with a growing number of assists from software, help employers wade through a huge pile of applications. But the cover letter is often the first thing the hiring manager sees, especially as the pile shrinks to likely candidates.

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Tips for how to write a cover letter

The cover letter is an opportunity to provide a brief accompanying narrative of who you are and why you're qualified for the position. So why not take advantage of this chance to shine?  

Follow these seven tips for writing the kind of  cover letter that will help your resume jump to the top of the pile — one that convinces hiring managers and HR professionals to bring you in for an interview.

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 relevant skills and personal qualities the resume may not illustrate.
  • Explain why you would love to have the job in question — and how it advances your personal career goals.
  • Establish any personal connections to the company or hiring manager, and how you'd like to help the business grow.
  • Justify any gaps in your resume.

2. Tailor your cover letter to a specific job

Just as we recommend for the resume, take the time to target your cover letter to the job at hand. Write a cover letter they can't ignore. Begin by carefully reviewing the job description, making a list of specific skills and experience that match this particular role.  

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 have managed. If it is a sales role, discuss 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.    

Remember, employers don't just want warm bodies. They want 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.

3. 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 is 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.  

This is also your chance to show you've done your research on the company, its mission and key leadership. Mention any personal connections you have to the company and colleagues you might have in common. The cover letter process underscores one of the chief reasons for attending professional conferences and luncheons. Many job referrals are based on personal connections.

4. Use a standard business letter format

A cover letter is not a quick email you dash off. You should write to the same standards as any formal business letter. Use a standard font size (10 or 12 point, in a readable font style such as Times New Roman, Arial or Calibri). Keep it to one page (generally three or four short paragraphs). And include your name and contact information at the top in a business letter format.  

5. Use keywords from the job description

Many employers use resume-filtering software that scans for resume 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. During the writing process, review qualifications such as the type of degree required, the number of years' experience needed, specified software skills, organization and communication abilities, and project management background.

6. Proofread thoroughly

Once you're convinced you've made a strong argument for your candidacy, it's time to proofread your work. No hiring manager wants to see a great cover letter with typos and grammatical errors.  

After you've given your cover letter a final polish, ask a friend with excellent 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.

7. End on a high note

In your concluding paragraph, reiterate in a sentence or two why you are the right person for this job. Most hiring managers will go to the resume after reading your cover letter, so prepare them to notice what you want them to see next.

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