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How to Write a Cover Letter for Any Job

Rachel is a freelance lifestyle writer who also works full time in education management.

A well-written, polished cover letter can sway employers to decide in your favor.

A well-written, polished cover letter can sway employers to decide in your favor.

Cover Letters 101

A cover letter is a letter of introduction that typically accompanies a resumé. If you've ever applied for a job, chances are you've written at least one cover letter in your lifetime.

The cover letter not only serves as your first introduction to the employer, it's also their first impression of your skills and qualifications for the job. It's a good idea to customize your cover letter for each company and position.

There are five key principles to follow that will help you produce an impressive cover letter. Using these guidelines, you'll never struggle to write the perfect cover letter again!

5 Principles Of Writing a Great Cover Letter

  • Highlight your transferrable skills. Especially when you're changing career fields, be sure to demonstrate how your current skill set will carry over into your new field. Place more emphasis on work experience than education.
  • Talk about what you will bring to the company. The position you're applying for will probably provide you with a lot of great benefits. Make sure you let the employer know what you can do for them, too.
  • Don't apologize for skills you don't have. Speak to your strengths and enthusiasm for the position.
  • Lose the formality. An overly formal cover letter seems robotic and insincere. The employer might assume by your impersonal tone that you're distributing the same cover letter in mass quantities.
  • Be real. Enthusiasm is great—forced overexcitement is not. Remember that the employer is human, too. Don't be afraid to get a little creative and showcase your unique traits. A genuine, customized cover letter will always pull more points than a lifeless regurgitation of a resumé.

Don't make the mistake of using the same cover letter for every application. Follow this rule: If you could simply replace the name of the company and still use the letter, it's too generic. If it's not tailored, it indicates you didn't research the company. The employer is less likely to be interested if they can tell you sent a generic letter to many organizations.

Solve a Problem

A common cover letter mistake is talking exclusively about how great the position would be for your personal development and career growth. Hiring managers are aware of the benefits that their open position will provide to the right candidate. What they really want to know is what you’re going to bring to the table.

Research the organization to gain an understanding of their current challenges and future goals. Illustrate how you might go about solving a problem for them. Putting yourself in the role helps the employer visualize you there, too.

Make sure your highlighted skills are directly correlated to the needs of the position. You can go on and on about your skills, but if the employer can't connect those skills with their needs, they won't find value in them.

Highlight Your Transferable Skills

Beyond explaining what you’ve done in the past, show hiring managers what you can do in the future. Determine the key requirements for the job through careful examination of the job posting. Gather more information about the company's goals and values by perusing their website. This, alone, will impress the employer by showing your initiative and interest in the company.

Make it instantly clear to the employer that you can deliver on what they're looking for. Changing career fields can cause you to worry that you'll look inexperienced and under qualified. However, there are many valuable job skills that are applicable across numerous fields.

Some highly transferrable job skills include:

  • Teamwork
  • Leadership
  • Time management
  • Organization
  • Active listening
  • Written and verbal communication
  • Customer service
  • Research and analysis
  • Information technology

New college grad? Internships and volunteer experiences count, too!

With the right cover letter, you can feel confident applying to a job—even one outside of your current field.

With the right cover letter, you can feel confident applying to a job—even one outside of your current field.

Don't Apologize For Skills You Don't Have

When you don’t meet all of the job requirements, you might feel obligated to say something like, “Despite my limited experience with marketing…” or “While I only have work experience doing administrative tasks…”

Don't apologize! Instead of drawing attention to your weaknesses, try to focus on your strengths. Have your transferable skills ready and maintain enthusiasm for the job and company.

Don't be afraid to tell a story to reinforce your dedication to the job. What brings you to this particular company? Did the products or services impact your life? Stories bring your background and experiences to life, and allow the employer to see more than just a list of skills on paper. Just remember to keep the stories short and to the point.

Don't meet 100% of the qualifications listed in the job posting? Apply anyway. If you meet at least 60% of the criteria, you're still in the running.

Lose the Formality

Have you ever written a cover letter with a line like this:

"I wish to convey my interest in filling the open position at your prestigious establishment..."

That's not how we talk in everyday life, and it sets you up for a really bad first impression. Sounding overly formal or robotic signals to the employer that you didn't put forth the energy and effort into creating a personalized message. The employer may assume that you sent out many copies of the same cover letter to different companies, just hoping that someone would call you back. When trying to land a new job, quality is better than quantity.

You want to sound friendly and approachable. The people conducting your interview may be your co-workers one day, and they want to know that they'll be working with someone who is personable and enjoyable to work with—not just someone with qualifying job skills.

Don't make the mistake of using the same cover letter for every application. Follow this rule: If you could simply replace the name of the company and still use the letter, it's too generic. If it's not tailored, it indicates you didn't research the company. The employer is less likely to be interested if they can tell you sent a generic letter to many organizations.

Be Genuine

An employer can tell right away if you're genuinely interested in the job, or if you've just sent out an overly excited, adverb-filled message to every employer in a 100-mile radius.

Don't feel obligated to say things like, “I'm absolutely thrilled for the opportunity” or “I'm very excitedly applying!” Again, this isn't how we typically carry a conversation, and appearing robotic or phony is a surefire way to get your resumé sent to the bottom of the pile.

It's a good idea to keep your cover letter succinct. Sometimes, less is more—and this is one of those times. Avoid describing yourself in generic terms, like “team player” or “people person.” Show off your specific, unique skills with descriptive statements like "expert communicator." Give an example to support your statement so you're not making a ton of unsupported claims.

how-to-write-a-cover-letter-for-any-job

“The cover letter is a key part of your marketing package. Use it as an opportunity to convey your brand and value proposition.”

— Betty Corrado, owner of career-coaching firm Career Authenticity

Let's Get Writing

Ready to write? I recommend using the following resources for cover letter samples and tips, listed by industry:

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 Rachel Hezel

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