What exactly should a cover letter include? I’ve wondered about that for a while now, as I’ve helped edit cover letters from a variety of job applicants. Some do little more than restate details from the resume, others offer more personal information about the applicant’s past and why he/she/they is interested in the position. Are there specific “dos” and “don’ts” job seekers should follow when writing the letter introducing themselves to prospective employers? Here are some tips for crafting an effective cover letter
Career experts I reached out to had various takes on the topic. To sum them up: Don’t just rehash your resume, add a personal touch, and do a deeper dive into the skills that make you the right person for the job.
“The best cover letters tell a story. Why do you want this job? What makes you uniquely qualified? What about the organization personally connects with you?” says Rachel Esterline Perkins, founder and host of Venturesome Podcast.
“When hiring managers are reviewing cover letters, sometimes they all sound and look the same. A cover letter is valuable real estate that you should not use to rehash your resume. Instead, you can talk about your passion for a certain industry or how you’ve been personally impacted by the organization.
You also can give unique insights into your work style and your experiences working with key stakeholders, as well as add details on the soft skills you have that are needed to succeed…[things like] collaboration, attention to detail. You can even address how you might be perceived as not having the right experience for the role.” It is important to use these tips for crafting an effective cover letter.
Case in point: One of the most memorable cover letters Perkins has ever received started with, “You may have noticed I have no experience in public relations. But here’s why I’d be a great intern.”
“The student detailed her writing experience, passion for the cause and how her experience in the service industry would help her succeed,” Perkins recalls. “Her creativity got her foot in the door and she worked as an intern for several semesters until she graduated.”
Hannah Kuspira, a career adviser and co-founder at KNOWLEJOBLE, says the goal is to make your cover letter stand out from the crowd. “In one-third of cases, hiring managers won’t read cover letters because they are generic and unoriginal. With a quick glance, the reader can tell whether it is worth their time to read,” Kuspira says. “If you can catch their attention you begin to build a relationship with the hiring manager and will help to inform the first stage of the interview process.”
These tips from career experts can help you write cover letters that shine:
Refer to the correct job and company. That sounds like a no-brainer! But Kuspira says she has read cover letters that don’t reference the company or job the application is for — and some that have even referenced the wrong job and company. “It is critical to send a well-researched and specific cover letter to companies because they receive hundreds that are all very alike,” she says. “A well-researched cover letter stands-out and shows interest and dedication.”
Let your personality show. “Great cover letters provide information on your values, career goals, personality, work environment preferences, and types of teams you like to work with,” explains Kuspira, who says applicants can “infuse some personality” into their letters “by balancing the formal aspects with a more personal tone of voice.
“Write your cover letter to help the manager decide if their open position is going to be a fit with the type of role that will help you thrive,” she adds. “Employers don’t want to waste their time by interviewing people with the [required] technical skills but [who] won’t fit with their team — so help them understand more about your work style and goals through your cover letter.”
Be specific about your skill set. Don’t just list skills you’ll bring to the job; show how you’ve used them, says Damian Birkel, founder and executive director of Professionals In Transition. He recommends formatting a cover letter so “…the heart of the letter matches your abilities with the company’s needs.” He suggests a two-column format that includes a few of the job requirements (which he says can be copied and pasted from the listing) in one column, and information about how the applicant’s abilities and skills fulfill each requirement in the other.
Explain what you hope to get from the position. According to Kuspira, your cover letter should address how the job you’re applying for aligns with your larger goals and vision for your life. We’ve provided some tips for crafting an effective cover letter advice and says “Too many times, I read cover letters that tell me how I will benefit from hiring you … but I want to know what benefit you will get from the job.”
Benefits to be gained might include:
- Exposure to a new industry (or an industry you care a lot about)
- Development of new skills
- Opportunity to work under a specific leadership style
- Specific work schedules that they are offering
- Potential to grow leadership skills
End on a confident note. A post about writing great cover letters on CareerCloud, offers this tip about wrapping up cover letters in a memorable way: “Thank the individual for their time. Restate your purpose. If you are using it as an application letter, show your enthusiasm for the position and be confident in the next steps. End your letter letting them know that you are looking forward to sharing more about your qualifications during the interview…And, again, thank them for the time and let them know you look forward to meeting with them.”
A cover letter also can serve another purpose, says CareerCloud founder Michael Gardon.
“A cover letter doesn’t have to be used just when submitting a resume — it’s really your story,” Gardon explains. “You can use different versions of a cover letter to network with hiring managers. Most people are just sending around a resume, but if you wrote a great cover letter and reached out to a hiring manager on LinkedIn with a great story, I guarantee you would have higher odds of hearing a response and maybe developing a relationship that lands you at the top of the resume pile.”