A well-prepared job seeker should have all the essentials in place as they search for new positions: an updated resume, professional references, and last but not least, a cover letter. Today, most employers accept job applications through online portals and you may notice that some positions do not technically require a cover letter; however, that doesn’t mean you should ignore it!
A cover letter offers a narrative to go with your resume and gives you the opportunity to highlight why you’re right for the job in your own words. With your cover letter, you can address gaps in your employment and explain a nontraditional education background, or simply find ways to describe skills and experiences that aren’t as easy to summarize on your resume. This is your opportunity to show your personality, get noticed, and showcase some of those “extras” that can set you apart, such as your initiative, writing abilities, attention to detail, and ability to follow the instructions in the job posting.
Customizing each cover letter is essential! Not sure how to get started? Read our advice!
Cover Letter Best Practices & Advice
Step One: Personalize It
When addressing your cover letter, it’s common and easy to address it: To Whom it May Concern or Dear Hiring Manager. This method may have been fine before the era of the internet, but today we have information at our fingertips. Use this information to your benefit!
Most job ads indicate the position title of the person you’ll be reporting to so search Google, the company, or LinkedIn to find the likely hiring manager’s name and address the letter to them personally. This attention to detail will help gain you bonus points.
Cover Letter Hint: Don’t forget to include two address blocks at the top of your letter for you and the employer. Additionally, your cover letter style should match your resume as this is another excellent way to showcase your professionalism.
Step Two: Make A Connection
You should always start your cover letter with the reason you’re writing, which in every case, should be the position you want to apply for and where you learned about the position. But your first paragraph is also an opportunity to make an instant connection.
Were you referred to the position by someone? Did you meet an employee by chance and learn about the job? Have you known someone for years that works there? If they have a positive reputation, don’t be afraid to name drop! Creating a connection makes you an automatic insider.
Cover Letter Hint: Watch the length of your cover letter. A half page to two-thirds of a page is the right length. Paragraphs should also be short and well written for easy scanning. As Mark Twain so famously said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” The extra time you take to craft a short letter will be evident to employers!
Step Three: You in Connection to Them
In your second paragraph, start by detailing why you want to work for this particular employer. What makes them special in your opinion? What do you connect with when learning about what they do? Why this position? Again, you can learn a lot about a company through their website, mission statement and press releases. Do your homework.
Your cover letter should focus on you in connection to them. Try to avoid focusing solely on you and reduce the number of “I” statements in your letter, if possible.
Try to answer these questions with your cover letter:
- How can you help them succeed?
- What is it about what they do and this specific position that you’re excited/passionate about?
- How can you show them you’re a good fit for their team?
Cover Letter Hint: Don’t be too generic. This is the time to show your voice or writing personality and give the hiring manager an indication of what kind of employee and communicator you’ll be on the job. Use details and personalize your letter to give a great first impression.
Step Four: Get Concrete
The third paragraph is all about giving concrete examples of what you can do for them. Closely inspect the job ad and make a 1:1 connection between skills and experiences they’re asking for and those you’re offering. They say they want someone who can perform financial audits? Explain how you’ve done so in the past. Don’t be afraid to use anecdotes or short stories to explain your experience!
Cover Letter Hint: When writing your cover letter, refer to the job ad often. Use the language they use to be sure you capture their attention.
Step Five: Wrap It Up
Finish your cover letter with a sentence or two that sums up your qualifications and end by expressing your desire for an interview in the near future to discuss how you can help meet their needs.
Cover Letter Hint: Save your resume and cover letter as a PDF prior to sending or uploading. This will ensure your intended formatting stays put and your professionalism remains intact.
With these five cover letter steps, you’re well on your way to impressing your next hiring manager!