How to Write the Perfect Cover Letter

Most advice given to job seekers is short-lived. These days, there are many people who believe that cover letters have become obsolete in the age of digital job applications and social media networks, which give employers a much more intimate look into the personal lives of job candidates than any single document can.

How to write a cover letter

Is it true then that there’s no reason to learn how to write a great cover letter? Of course not! Unless the employer specifically asks you not to send a cover letter with your application, you should still send one even when not explicitly asked to do so. Why? Because it shows initiative and makes you stand out from the hundreds of other job seekers who either couldn’t be bothered to write a cover letter or don’t know how to do it.

What is a Cover Letter?

But what exactly is a cover letter, and what kind of information do employers typically expect it to contain? Traditionally, a cover letter is a letter of introduction attached to a resume or curriculum vitae. It gives job seekers a chance to introduce themselves and explain why they are suitable for the job.

Employers read cover letters to screen out applicants who are not sufficiently interested in their positions as well as those who lack the basic skills required for writing a cover letter. Employers sometimes specify what kind of information should be mentioned in the cover letter, especially if the position calls for someone with a very specific personality or background.

Steps on How to Write a Great Cover Letter

Brevity is the key to success when it comes to writing a cover letter. Unless you’re specifically told to do so by the employer, don’t make your cover letter longer than half a page. Even if you have the verbal skills of Ernest Hemingway, you can be sure that nobody is going to read more than the first couple of paragraphs of your cover letter until you almost have the job.

  1. Before you write the first sentence, begin the cover letter with both the employer’s and your contact information. If you don’t know how to properly format contact information, you should consider using a cover letter template, instead of starting with a blank piece of paper.
  2. Every cover letter should start with a greeting, followed by a brief introduction. Your goal here is to capture the attention of the hiring manager right away. Go to LinkedIn and try to find out who the hiring manager is. Even if you mistakenly use a wrong name, it will still show that you’ve made an effort, and your cover letter will stand out from cover letters of people who have decided to use a generic honorific.
  3. After an introductory paragraph, it’s time to sell your strengths, including previous job experience, skills, abilities, and achievements. Look at some cover letter examples written by hiring managers to find out which tone of voice is appropriate. Generally speaking, you don’t want to sound like you’re bragging too much, but you also don’t want to be unnecessarily modest. Simply state your strengths as facts and move on.
  4. Conclude your cover letter with a call to action, which is an assertive statement that conveys what you would like the person reading the cover letter to do next, which is typical to contact you so you can get an interview.
  5. Don’t forget to thank the hiring manager for their time.

what is cover letter

Tips for Crafting an Amazing Cover Letter

  • Use one cover letter for one job. Yes, we know how tedious it is to write a new cover letter for each job, but the practice this gives you is irreplaceable. Of course, you should save one sample cover letter so you don’t need to waste time to recreate your cover letter format and style every time you send a new job application, but the text itself should be original and unique. Since cover letters shouldn’t be longer than half a page, it really shouldn’t take you more than 5 minutes to write a cover letter and proofread it.
  • Let others read your cover letter. What sounds good to you may seem horrible to others. Don’t be afraid of criticism and ask your friends and family to read a couple of your cover letters to give you some constructive feedback. You may find out that you tend to be overly modest, or you may discover that you keep making the same grammar mistake over and over again.
  • Proofread your resume cover letter. It takes just one grammar error to ruin any resume or cover letter. You might be surprised just how many people have struggled to be invited for an interview because they overlooked some glaring grammar error in their resume or cover letter. Don’t make the same mistakes as those people and proofread both your resume and your cover letter until you’re certain they are perfect. If grammar isn’t one of your strengths, it may even pay off to hire a professional proofreader.
  • Research the company. You can use your cover letter as an opportunity to demonstrate that you’ve researched the company and understand what they are all about. Try to convey that you’re passionate about their industry and agree with their core values. Remember that every company has its own unique culture, and it’s a job of the hiring manager to find someone who would make a good fit. If you like working in more conservative organizations, and you’re applying for a job in a bank, let the hiring manager know right away that the company culture is one of the things you like about the job.
  • Be enthusiastic and positive. If you’ve been looking for a job for a long time, it’s understandable that enthusiasm and positivity probably aren’t the emotions you feel most often. Regardless, do your best to convey that you’re someone who is a pleasure to work with by using emotionally charged language the same way motivational speakers do.
  • Don’t try to be funny. Humor is a powerful tool that can land you a great job instantly. But like any tool, it works only when used correctly. And because it’s quite rare for two individuals with the same sense of humor to randomly stumble upon each other, most attempts at humor fall flat. While a good joke may help you get an interview, a bad or even a mediocre one is guaranteed to ruin your chances of ever seeing the hiring manager face to face.
  • Don’t point out your shortcomings. There’s absolutely no reason to explain why you dropped out of college or why you only have experience with administrative tasks. No job candidate is perfect, and it’s not your responsibility to point out your every shortcoming. In fact, what you may consider a shortcoming may actually turn out to be an advantage down the line, so don’t ruin your chances before you get there. 
  • Add a headline. Cover letters typically don’t have a headline, which is exactly why you should consider adding one. If your cover letter is the only one with a headline, the hiring manager will definitely take notice.
  • Be genuine. When writing a cover letter, it’s best to stay true to yourself and convey who you really are by avoiding canned phrases and advice given by outdated career guides and college textbooks. Hiring managers read dozens and dozens of covers letter every day, and their trained eyes quickly notice when someone speaks the heart and not from a guidebook. 
  • Avoid business talk. Do you know how many job applicants describe themselves as “team players” or “go-getters”? All of them. Don’t join their ranks by using the same phrases that every cookie-cutter Internet article recommends to use to sound professional and desirable. 
  • Tell a story. Your life is a story, and your current search for a new job is one chapter of this story. Why not use the cover letter as an opportunity to convey your personal story in a manner that’s guaranteed to capture the attention of the hiring manager and present you as someone who is creative, interesting, and innovative? 
  • Use hypertext. If you know that you will be submitting your cover letter online, you may enhance it with a couple of well-placed hyperlinks. For example, you may include links to your social media profiles, your personal website, your personal projects, or online articles that mention your name. 
  • Don’t obsess over every cover letter writing tip you come across. There is a lot of conflicting advice when it comes to writing cover letters. This state of things reflects the fact that it’s impossible to craft a cover letter that is going to amaze every single hiring manager out there. If you’re lucky, you will stumble upon a hiring manager who likes your style of writing and land an interview. And if you’re unlucky, a good cover letter will at least guarantee that it won’t end up in the garbage bin.
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Cover Letter Format & Sample updated: April 12, 2018 author: VL
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