A cover letter doesn’t just serve as an introduction to your resume, in many cases it’s the first time an employer sees you. Make every word in that introduction count—and yes, font matters. If you don’t want your cover letter to end up forlorn and neglected, keep reading.
1. The first rule? Don’t be boring.
Hiring managers and recruiters read—and eliminate—hundreds of cover letters a day, until the words all blur together:
“I’m self-motivated and determined with a passion for...”
“I can manage a team up close or at a distance.”
“As you can see….”
“I am looking for a position that utilizes my skills”
Every time you use a generic phrase or sentence to describe yourself and your capabilities, you sound nondescript and forgettable. At best, you appear pleasantly bland. At worst, you present no good or compelling reason for a company to hire you over anybody else, which leads me to my second point.
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2. Be specific and share relevant details. This mandate starts right at the top. If you can’t figure out the name of the person who will be reading your resume from the LinkedIn job posting, or the company’s Twitter account or website, simply address your letter to “Dear Hiring Manager.” This move will also let you bypass the formality of “To Whom It May Concern” or the quaint, catch-me-if-I-faint “Dear Sir or Madam,” which sounds like a relic from Downtown Abbey—and not in a good way.
Do use the cover letter to reveal important details and skills about you—and any salient work experiences. But don’t overuse the pronoun “I.” If your letter focuses more on you than on what you can do for the company, you’re sending a dubious message.
3. Don’t dawdle. Get to the point—and fast. Use bullets or numbers to show why your experience and accomplishments fit with the employer’s stated strategic plan. Most publicly traded companies reference the company’s goals in annual reports, which are published on their investor site.
4. Structure your cover letter as a series of problems and challenges that you‘ve successfully met. Identify issues that you’ve helped to solve or fix. Avoid a linear, chronological summary. And don’t exaggerate or lie—you’ll be caught, eventually.
Related: Lie on a Resume and You May Lose More Than a Job
5. Resist the temptation to use the same cover letter for every application. I can see why using one cover letter as a template seems like a good idea while job-hunting, but hear me out--this is too easy to mess up. What if you forget to swap out the job title or the company name? You come off looking careless and sloppy. And what happens if you address your cover letter to the wrong person because you forgot to update the contact information? Awkward!
These mistakes completely derail that “detail-oriented” image you were trying so hard to convey to your future employer in the first place. In fact, every typo and mistake you make on your universal cover letter will be repeated on future job applications until you catch the mistake. Your typo will be multiplied every time you hit send. Always proofread correspondence. Don’t assume what you wrote last week or last month is still valid or correct.
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6. Don’t just repeat what’s already on your resume. Your cover letter connects the dots and bullet-points of your resume in an inspiring narrative or highlights reel. Plus, your cover letter needs to stand as a complete document on its own, especially if the hiring manager hasn’t had a chance to read your resume yet.
7. Follow instructions. If the application asks you for a salary range, then include it. If not, don’t volunteer this information until you’re asked. Same goes for start dates and dates of availability for interviews. A cover letter has one purpose, and one purpose only—to get your foot in the door.