6 Key Tips for Writing a Killer Cover Letter


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As you’re conducting a job search and sending out resumes to targeted employers, you may be tempted to tack on a generic cover letter. Maybe you choose to forego a cover letter entirely. Don’t do that. It’s not worth your time and effort. Instead, you need to write a killer cover letter, that’s customized to the hiring manager. It’s crucial to increasing your chances of getting hired. 

Most employer representatives still take the time to peruse cover letters when deciding which candidates to contact. The content you include could give you the boost you need to stand out from others. A well-conceived cover letter can highlight key achievements that aren’t spelled out on your resume. It can also reiterate why you want the job and call attention to other factors that may help you get an interview. 

Research supports the fact that cover letters still matter. In one 2020 survey of hiring managers, recruiters and other key HR staffers in the U.S., 83% of respondents agree cover letters are still an important part of the decision-making process. 72% expect cover letters even when job postings state that they’re optional. Seventy-seven percent say they give preference to candidates who enclose cover letters. 83% say they’d interview someone with a great cover letter even if the person’s resume wasn’t a standout. 

Once you get the hang of writing a killer cover letter, your ensuing letters should be fairly easy to wrap up. Here are some tips to keep in mind as you move forward.

Start with the standard ingredients.

Your cover letter template should include a salutation. There should also be an introductory paragraph and a summary of your qualifications (described in one to three paragraphs or listed as bullet points). Lastly, include a closing statement, your signature and your contact info.

Write in the company’s voice.

Check out your target company’s website and social media presence to get an idea of its personality before you get started. Chances are, there is no need to be excessively formal in your wording. In general, you should aim for phrasing that’s genuine, truthful, conversational and approachable so you come across as a real person. 

Customize each letter to the job and company.

I’s essential to convey your enthusiasm for the job in question. Hiring managers seek candidates who know what they want and have given thought to how they might perform in the role for which they’re aiming. That’s why you need to make sure to personalize these elements:

The salutation.

When possible, conduct research to learn the name of the hiring manager. Often you’ll find that person’s name in the job posting. If not, you might search LinkedIn by entering the company name and “HR manager” in the search field. Check your LinkedIn profile to determine whether any of your contacts (or their contacts) are connected enough with the company to know the hiring manager’s name. You could also try calling the company directly and asking the receptionist who’s conducting the job search. 

Once you know the name, err on the side of referring to him or her as Mr. or Ms. Lastname instead of using a first name. That said, first names may be OK if you’re certain the company or industry is casual in nature. 

If you absolutely can’t find the hiring manager’s name, avoid anything generic such as “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.” A better choice would be something like “Dear Accounting Department Hiring Manager” or “Dear Acme Co. HR Director.”

The intro paragraph:

 State the exact position for which you’re applying and write a brief statement explaining why you’re interested in that role and/or company. Instead of emphasizing what you want, do your best to suggest how you might benefit the company and help it solve “pain points.” Here’s an example. “I feel that my background and skillset would help me hit the ground running so I could efficiently, effectively tackle the departmental challenges described in the ad.” 

One additional point: Do not be tempted to apologize for (or call attention to) perceived shortcomings that you think might keep you from being considered. Instead, use this space to focus on the job-specific skills and experiences that are most in your favor. 

If you’ve identified a mutual contact who’s provided you info about the role or company, the intro paragraph can be an ideal spot to let the hiring manager know. After all, the hiring process is often more about who you know what you know. 

The summary of your qualifications:

It’s fine to use information from your resume to make sure you’re describing your most important attributes using wording that aligns with the job posting. However, your cover letter should never repeat the exact same info you included in your resume. Instead, use this space to position it a bit differently and/or highlight assets that weren’t fully described on your resume. 

Here’s one example. Perhaps the accounting director role for which you’re applying requires you to teach accounting systems to all new staffers. If your resume mentions that your previous role involved managing accountants, your cover letter could take that a step further. Notate that you initiated the adoption of new accounting software and ensured related staff competency within three months. 

You’ll also want to optimize your cover letter for SEO by using wording that aligns with the job posting. Seek opportunities to help the recruiter. Help the automated recruiting system he’s likely using to identify you as an ideal candidate. You can do this by drawing close comparisons with your professional assets and the ones being sought. Go through what you’ve written and look for opportunities to plug in more keywords or key phrases from the ad. If you’ve already incorporated those, seek additional keywords that describe the kind of work you’d be doing in the role in question.

Stop at one page.

You should be writing a killer cover letter that is one page or less. You can still have white space leftover. Edit what you’ve written so it succinctly summarizes your most important info. Call attention to the highlights that might incentivize an employer to contact you for an interview.

Appearance matters.

Once you decide what to include in your letter, make sure the content is formatted just as attractively and professionally as your resume. This is not the time to get creative with fancy borders or oddly proportioned margins. Instead, the letter should match your resume in appearance and feature the same font size and style. Generally speaking, your text should align to the left and your margins should be one inch all around. Remember to leave spaces between your salutation and main content. Leave spaces between each paragraph in your main content, and between your main content and signature. Aim to make everything as clear and easy to read as possible.

Check everything twice.

Don’t be in such a hurry that you forget to spellcheck and grammar-check the entirety before attaching it or hitting “send.” Submitting a sloppy misspelled cover or nonsensical letter is worse than sending none at all. You may even want to ask a friend or family member to review what you’ve written to ensure it’s correct, readable, and relevant. 

Writing a killer cover letter is a crucial part of your overall brand as you’re searching for a new job. Put some time, thought, and energy into making it work in your favor.

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