Writing Successful Cover Letters

A great cover letter is just as powerful and important as a solid résumé. It’s your first impression, and if it’s good, it will make the employer want to learn more about you.

Here are twelve tips for writing a successful cover letter that will help you score an interview—and maybe even your dream job.

Writing Successful Cover Letters

1. Customize your letter to fit the job advertisement.

This is probably the most important tip to remember if you want your cover letter to stand out from the crowd. You might already have a generic cover letter, but you should take a close look at the job you’re applying for and make your cover letter fit the company’s needs.

For example, if the ad says they’re looking for a team player, mention how your volunteer service has helped you learn to work well with others. If they’re looking for someone with great customer service skills, explain how your days as a sales assistant (or cashier, or tech support representative, etc) have helped you learn to treat customers well.

Whatever skills they’re looking for, mention those specifically in your letter with a brief example, if possible.

2. Show that you have researched the company.

This can often be as simple as an online search, and taking the time to do this will reap tremendous benefits. Employers will be impressed if they can tell from your cover letter that you understand what their company is all about.
Similarly, they’re likely to disregard you if you seem confused or ignorant about who they are and what they do.

3. Be honest.

Don’t ever lie on your résumé or in your cover letter. Employers will figure out fairly quickly if you’ve been dishonest or have over-exaggerated. If you lack skills in one area, draw the employer’s attention instead to the skills and experience you do have that would be beneficial to the job.

4. Be enthusiastic.

Conveying enthusiasm can be difficult to do in a letter, but it’s important. Employers want to interview the candidates who really want the job. If your cover letter is too short or dry, the employer may mistake that for a lack of enthusiasm.

Don’t be afraid to be creative with your letter. One way to do this is to include a brief story or personal illustration to reinforce one of your statements. This is more memorable than standard, to-the-point letters employers tend to receive, and it’s possible to do this without sounding gimmicky or getting off topic.

5. Highlight your greatest achievements and skills.

If you’ve earned an honor or award you’re particularly proud of, or if you’ve received special recognition or training that sets you apart from other candidates, mention it in your cover letter.

These things might already be in your résumé, but it never hurts to emphasize your most impressive accomplishments by including them in the cover letter, too.

6. Use the cover letter as an opportunity to expound on your résumé.

The cover letter can make your résumé come alive. Whereas a résumé tends to list your education, experience, and skills, a cover letter gives you the chance to connect those things to the job you’re applying for by explaining how your accomplishments make you the best person for the job.

7. Address the hiring manager by name.

Take the time to find out who your letter is going to. This might involve asking someone you know who works at the company or phoning the company to ask for the name of the hiring manager. Sometimes this information is not accessible.

In such cases, you may choose to leave off the salutation altogether. If you don’t address the letter to a specific person, take care to personalize your letter for that company in other ways. Some other ways you can personalize the letter include:

  • Mentioning the company by name in the first paragraph of the letter
  • Telling how your life has been positively affected by the company or organization, or
  • Detailing what you admire about the company.

However, you do it, make sure the person receiving the letter will really feel like you wrote the letter to him or her.

8. Be humble.

This may seem like a contradiction to what you’ve learned about writing cover letters. After all, you’re supposed to be confident and showcase your talents and skills, right? Absolutely.

But it is possible to go overboard and simply annoy the employer with your too-ample self-esteem. Steer clear of dramatic statements like, “Your company needs me to take it to the next level.” Your responsibility is to show them how great you would be for the job and let them come to these kinds of conclusions on their own. Otherwise, you’ll sound arrogant—the type of person no one wants to work with.

9. Keep the cover letter at one page or less.

Hiring managers are busy, and they’re unlikely to take the time to read through a several-page-long cover letter. Even if you have lots of information about yourself you want to convey, keep it at a page or less.

Choose the most important information, and be concise. A letter containing three to four paragraphs is ideal.

10. Explain your goals.

Companies are interested in employees who have driven and ambition. Hiring someone new is a risk for them, and they will feel safer about hiring you if they know you are dedicated and have a purpose in applying for the job.

If you’re applying for an entry-level position, you might want to include in your cover letter that you believe the position would help you gain valuable experience in your field. Show them that you will invest yourself in the company. Then they’ll be more likely to invest in you.

11. Give the employer a variety of ways to contact you.

Your letter should include your name, address, phone number, e-mail address, and any other information such as a website or online portfolio that you might have. Different employers will prefer to connect with you in different ways, so make sure you give plenty of options.

12. Make sure your cover letter contains no mistakes.

Grammatical errors, poor sentence structure, or improper word choice will look sloppy and unprofessional. Always have someone else read your letter. An objective person can often point out mistakes or potential problem areas you wouldn’t have noticed on your own.

If you’re a student, ask one of your professors to take a look at your cover letter. Most will be happy to do so. Otherwise, try to find a professional who can proofread it for you.

Don’t underestimate the power of your cover letter! A well-written letter with the most pertinent information can make the difference between getting a call for an interview and repeatedly sending out cover letters and résumés to no avail. Take the time to make sure your cover letter leaves the employer with a good impression.