8 Tips for Writing a Cover Letter that Gets Results

By Doug White on December 11, 2016 at 1:00pm

Many job seekers believe that writing a cover letter is no longer necessary. Those people are wrong.

Far from a thing of the past, the often overlooked cover letter is a key self-promotional tool for creative job seekers — especially in a competitive employment market. Check out these eight tips for writing a cover letter:

1. Keep it brief

More isn’t always better when writing a cover letter. The best ones are customized and concise. Hiring managers with myriad applications to review don’t have the time (or patience) to wade through your life story. Three to four straightforward paragraphs should suffice. Write an attention-grabbing introduction; succinctly highlight your top skills, accomplishments and attributes; and explain why you’re a good fit for the specific role.

2. Offer fresh information

Don’t just rehash your resume. Expand upon your most relevant selling points and direct the hiring manager to a particularly powerful piece in your portfolio. If you’re out of work, call attention to the ways you’re keeping your skills sharp, by attending industry conferences or taking professional development courses, for example. Highlighting any recent freelance or pro bono work that you’ve done can allay an employer’s concerns about a resume gap.

3. Be confident, not cocky

Employers expect job candidates to use the cover letter to toot their own horn. (That’s the whole point, right?) But some job seekers go overboard with the self-celebration. Instead of bragging about being the “world’s best UX designer” or a “marketing superhero,” provide concrete information that conveys your value and impact. Bold statements are OK, as long as you back them up with facts.

4. Don’t overshare when writing a cover letter

Showing some personality is generally fine, but keep the focus on your career. Some job seekers seem to mistake the cover letter for a journal entry. Stick to pertinent facts and omit personal details unrelated to your ability to perform the job. For instance, this real-life applicant’s admission surely left hiring managers scratching their heads: “My problems with excessive perspiration started in high school.”

5. Make no demands

Zero in on what you can do for the employer, not what you hope to gain from the company. It’s both presumptuous and off-putting to cite salary demands before you’ve even landed a phone or video interview. The same goes for bringing up the perks and benefits you expect.

6. Name names

Address your letter to the person hiring for the position rather than using a generic salutation such as “Dear Employer” or “To Whom It May Concern.” If the job ad doesn’t mention whom to contact, be proactive and call the company. Ask for the hiring manager’s name and job title. This extra effort to tailor your pitch demonstrates resourcefulness and ensures that your letter will make it to the right person.

7. Take your time

Writing a cover letter without carefully proofreading it for typos and clarity is worse than not submitting one at all. If you’re careless with your cover letter, an employer can only assume you’d be equally inattentive on the job. Don’t sink your chances in a mad rush to get your application materials into a hiring manager’s hands.

8. Follow directions

Employers often provide specific instructions in the job ad, such as submitting your resume and cover letter in a certain file format or referencing the job title or requisition number. Before you upload your letter or hit the send button, reread the job posting to make sure you’ve done everything the employer asked. No matter how impressive your cover letter, failing to follow basic directions will raise red flags.

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