On average, the hiring process takes 23.8 days. That’s more than three weeks, during which your potential employer will search through dozens if not hundreds of submissions in hopes of finding the perfect person to fill a vacant position.
Will it be you?
The answer may depend on one key thing: your cover letter. Create a document that sings and sells your unique value using these nine critical cover letter writing tips.
- Write for the Right Purpose
- Resist the Urge to Create the Next Great American Novel
- Separate Your Cover Letter from Your Resume
- Make Your Materials Match
- Know Your Audience
- Omit any Unnecessary Facts
- Avoid “Me Me Me” Syndrome
- Emphasize the Talents You Have Rather Than the Experience You Don’t
- Start With a Template, and Then Get Inspired
Cover letters aren’t one-size-fits-all. There are different cover letter formats for different situations, such as if you’re applying for an advertised job or following up on a referral for a position that may not yet exist. Before you start filling your computer screen with words, be sure you know the best practices for the type of cover letter you’re creating.
What’s more, cover letters aren’t factory farmed or turned out with cookie cutters. Each one should be somewhat unique and tailored to the company and position to which you’re applying. One of hiring leaders’ biggest pet peeves is a generic letter.
No one has time to read your version of War and Peace. The recruiter, the business owner, the head of HR — whoever is perusing your cover letter has more important things to do than flip through three pages of content, no matter how well it’s written. Put this cover letter writing tip to work by keeping things to one page or less.
If there was just one cover letter writing tip worth taking away from this entire article, it’s this one: your cover letter is not your resume. Regurgitating information you’ve already shared in another format is wasteful, redundant, and ridiculously ineffective. Instead, use this space to highlight your skills and personality and add any details you couldn’t jam into a single bullet point.
For instance, where on your resume you may have mentioned that you “Played an integral role in turning around an under-performing sales team”, on your cover letter you can expand on this point by explaining that “Having the opportunity to rebuild a declining sales team helped me review my own strengths and weakness and better develop my leadership abilities,” and your candidacy suddenly becomes much more compelling.
Your cover letter and resume should be markedly different, but they should also look like they go together. Both should share the same font (size and style), have similar margins and spacing, include identical contact information, and if you’re printing them out, they should be on the same type of paper. These are small but crucial things that prove you’re paying attention to details, and the polish will speak for itself.
Your resume is a general synopsis of your professional past with a hint of how you’d like your future career to take shape. Your cover letter is both position and company specific, and it should read as such.
Do your research before you start writing. Look at the company’s website and their social media. Do a Google News search for any recent stories you can reference in the cover letter or in an interview.
By gathering everything you can about the company’s vision, culture, track record, and plans, you’re indicating your interest and commitment from the get-go.
It’s easy to overshare when you’re eager to impress, but your next cover letter writing tip is designed to help you avoid disclosing information that could hurt your chances or bore your audience. Resist the urge to talk about why you left your last position, how much you expect to get paid (unless you’ve been expressly told to do so), the amount of vacation time you require, or anything else even remotely controversial or uncomfortable. This isn’t the time to get defensive or demanding. Keep the focus on your best attributes and the value you can bring to the company, and save the other stuff for later (or never).
Go one step further and find out who’ll be reading your cover letter so you can address it to them. You can usually find employee names on a company’s website or on LinkedIn.
Yes, your cover letter is your chance to dance a little in the spotlight, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to put your ego on display. There must be a balance between your desire to toot your own horn (as important as that is in this scenario) and your need to fluff the ego of the decision-maker who’ll ultimately be reading your application. In short, ask not what the company can do for you, but what you can do for the company.
Apologizing for any gaps in your education or using disclaimers like, “Although I’ve only been in the workforce for a few years…” will only damage your standing. In a job search situation, confidence is indispensable, and being too humble can cost you an opportunity when competition is stiff. While you certainly shouldn’t misrepresent your abilities, there’s no reason to broadcast any perceived shortcomings either. Keep your strengths at the forefront and direct attention to the qualities you’re most proud of.
There’s nothing wrong with getting the lay of the land before you get to work. In fact, a cover letter template can be the perfect way to put all these cover letter writing tips to good use, but only if you consider it a launching pad rather than a stopping point. Choose a template that matches your intended job best, and then customize it. Tweak suggested phrases until they sound more like you, and insert your experience and talents. Think long and hard about where you can be creative and what’s stepping over the line.
Ready to put yourself on paper? Use the cover letter writing tips above in concert with our free cover letter builder to craft an opening that will get you noticed for all the right reasons. That and a bit of authenticity could be exactly what you need to score an interview and, fingers crossed, the job offer you’ve been waiting for.