10 Tips for How to Write a Cover Letter

As a recruiter, I’ve read thousands and thousands of cover letters. I’ll be honest… most of them aren’t very good.

What happens to applications with bad cover letters? They end up being tossed.

Applicants often make the same basic mistake with their cover letter; they use it simply to rehash the same skills and experiences listed on their resume. In doing so, they miss a strategic opportunity to showcase their ability to communicate and their enthusiasm for the job.

Don’t make this rookie mistake! If you want to really connect with a recruiter, your application needs to include a solid cover letter. Here are my suggestions for how to write a cover letter that employers actually want to read:

1. No generic cover letters!

Clients often ask me to write an “all-purpose” cover letter, and are surprised when I decline. That’s because you need to customize each cover letter for the specific employer. Do not simply insert the company name and job title into an obvious form letter. This is the easiest way to ensure your application ends up in the “no” pile.

2. Focus on the employer’s needs

Always remember that companies hire because they have specific needs. Use the cover letter to show your understanding of those needs and how you can help.  You don’t want to brag, but you do want to position yourself as a problem solver.

3. Avoid the obvious

No need to repeat your name, that your resume is enclosed, that you’re applying for the job, or that references are available upon request. Focus on telling us why you’re the right fit for the job.

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4. Remember politeness

Start and end your cover letter with “thank you.” A little bit of courtesy goes a long way!

5. Explain why you think the organization is cool

Too many cover letters omit this important component. You need to explain why you really want to work with that specific company. What do you find interesting about the organization? How do you personally relate to what they do?

6. Explain why the job is cool

You also need to show why you are interested in the specific job for which you are applying. How does the job fit with your established professional interests? How do you think you could contribute in this potion? At the end of the day, you need find some answer to the question “why this job?”

7. Summarize (briefly) how you meet the requirements

Recruiters want to quickly see that you are qualified. Make it easy with a few concise explanatory sentences or bullet points.

8. Exude confidence, not cockiness

Using terms like “expert” or “guru” can be off-putting. Let examples of your accomplishments speak for themselves.

9. Follow directions on the job posting

This is so, so important. Most employers include application instructions in the job posting. Follow them. Why should they hire you if you can’t follow simple instructions?

10. Review your work (and then do it again)

Check spelling, grammar and content. Portland State University has a few quick tips for cover letters with great reminders.

Writing skills are valuable, and a cover letter is the prime opportunity to show your ability to communicate thoughtfully, understand your audience, and encourage the employer to read your resume.

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So take the time to construct a perfect cover letter. If you really want the job, it’s well worth the time and energy. I promise!