How-To Tuesday

Tips & Tricks for Writing a Cover Letter

[A version of this article was originally published here on on March 16, 2017.]

While your resume is a crucial element of your job search credentials, there’s a few other things that go into impressing future employers. With internship- and job-hunting season upon us, you need to get your cover letter in tip-top shape.

First and most importantly, eliminate any and all errors.

I can’t stress it enough. Double, triple, and quadruple check your cover letter for spelling, technical, and grammatical errors. Then, get at least one other person to double, triple, and quadruple check your cover letter. There is nothing more embarrassing than realizing you sent a cover letter with a typo in it out for 46 different jobs. Trust me when I say you will not be hearing back from any of them. Employers read dozens of cover letters for each position and are looking for any reason to boot you from the running. One seemingly harmless typo can and will cost you jobs and internships.

Have a solid format but don’t be afraid to branch out.

This element of a cover letter can be a bit subjective because it can depend on the field you’re trying to break into as well as the job itself that you’re applying to. For example, graphic designers should be more inclined to use a more dynamic format to showcase their skills while those applying to corporate companies should stick to a simpler format to ensure potential employers that there is no funny business to be had here. When in doubt, it’s best to stick to your standard three-to-five-paragraph format.

The bottom line of this tip is that if you do choose to branch out, make sure you know what you’re doing. Not only can you ruin your chance of being offered the job, you can actually put a good-sized dent into your reputation.

Also, try your hardest to keep your cover letter short and simple. According to Mark Slack at The Muse, 70% of employers want cover letters that are 250 words or less – that’s barely half a page. It’s hard to justify not using up your entire page because that’s what you’re supposed to do with your resume but keep in mind that your cover letter is not the only one they’re reading and reading cover letter after cover letter can get awfully boring. This is why it’s so important to stand out in your cover letter, which you can read more about under the next tip.

The content of your cover letter should offer unique information.

By this, we mean that your cover letter should not be a letter-version of your resume. Your cover letter should offer information that you were not able to fit on your resume. This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t use your cover letter as a place to expand on a truly remarkable experience you had regarding something you’ve already mentioned on your resume. But you will look like a fool if you list out all of your experiences in paragraph form just for your potential employer to then go to your resume and read the exact same thing over again.

However, by this we also mean that the content of your cover letter should stand out from the other cover letters in the running for the position you’re applying for. This may sound harsh, but your summer internship isn’t really that special. Internships are becoming more vital for job readiness by the year. Simply stating that you had a summer internship or two in your cover letter is not going to impress anyone. Contrarily, explain why your summer internship equipped you with skills and experiences completely matchless than those offered

Alternatively, you can also give an anecdote of a personal experience that has fortified you with skills that are perfect for the position you want. It’s best not to get too personal if you choose to go this route and you should steer clear of high school experiences unless they are above and beyond. However, do keep in mind that your cover letter if your first impression to an employer. When you first apply, you are a one-dimensional single-spaced document that can easily blend in with the rest. This is your chance to stand out.

Be genuine but know that employers can professionals at spotting ass-kissing.

Not only is it a good idea to sound excited to be applying for a job in your cover letter, it’s encouraged. But with that being said, there is a fine line between honest, genuine writing and brown-nosing. While you may be “absolutely thrilled” to be applying for this job, there are other ways to convey that other than using excessive amounts of adverbs. Let employers know that you’re looking forward to speaking with them further about the opportunity but without using unnecessary “fluff” to try to show you’re extra excited. Also, don’t you dare use an exclamation point.

Show that you’re an achiever rather than a doer.

People gravitate toward the idea of listing things that they’ve done because they believe that a long list of things that have been done is impressive. While that may be slightly true, it doesn’t show employers anything but the fact that you’ve done some stuff. What you want to do is show them that not only have you done but you have achieved at doing. For example, say that you’ve done four internships but then expand on that by saying that you increased company growth by 25% or that you invented a new system that augmented efficiency by two-fold. Even if your achievements are small, it shows that you are driven and goal-oriented rather than someone who just does things.

Little details matter… a lot.

By little details, I mean personal details that don’t let on that you’re using a similar template for every cover letter you’re sending out to different companies. Personalization of a cover letter can not only catch someone’s eye but it makes it more conversational. Again, you’re just a one-page summary of a person when you’re in the early stages of applying for jobs. Conversational is good.

What isn’t good is not making sure all of your little details match up. I always try to mention the position I’m applying for as well as the name of the company in both the introductory paragraph and the last paragraph to show that I know who I’m talking to and what I’m talking about. Additionally, I do my research and include the name of the hiring manager (or whoever will be reading my employment credentials) with the address of the company I’m applying to in my header. Even if you put the name of someone who doesn’t end up reading your credentials, it shows that you put in the effort.

A few other small details that make a difference are your greetings. Nothing annoys employers more than picking up a cover letter and reading the words “To Whom It May Concern”. You should just not even bother applying at that point because this, as well as “Dear Sir or Madam”, screams generic. As I said before, the more conversational the better and I really hope none of you would start a conversation that way.

I can’t guarantee that you’ll land the job, but these tips for your cover letter are sure to make you shine regardless!


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