Rachel is a professional writer with extensive experience in resume and cover letter writing.
Cover Letter Basics
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 is often the most dreaded part of the job search and application process.
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 every different company and position you apply to. It's understandable, then, that writing a great cover letter can put pressure on a jobseeker.
There are five key principles to follow that will help you produce an impressive cover letter. Using these guidelines, you can draft a cover letter template that can be easily tweaked any time you submit a new job application. Never struggle to write a perfect cover letter from scratch 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.
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:
- Team work
- Time management
- Active listening
- Written and verbal communication
- Customer service
- Research and analysis
- Information technology
Many people, especially new college grads, make the mistake of over-focusing on their educational backgrounds. What hiring managers care about most is your work experience and what you can deliver from your first day on the job. Internships and volunteer experiences count, too!
Talk About What You Will Bring to the Company
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 position and the company.
Make sure that you're 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.
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.
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.
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 30-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.
“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
Creating My Cover Letter Template
This cover letter template is one that I have actually used to land jobs in the field of remote customer support, marketing and sales, and project management. You will notice that the language of the letter is more conversational than formal.
Right away, I demonstrate that I understand the values and goals of the company. I then highlight a couple of my applicable job skills, giving specific examples to support my claims. I also indicate that I would bring value to the company.
I maintain professionalism without sounding too formal. The letter is short and contains zero fluff. I do not use any dull, boring opening statements that would cause the employer to immediately discard my letter. I make no apologies for missing skills, and confidently state that I wish to interview for the position.
With a few simple tweaks, this template can be used across many different jobs and companies.
My Template Sample
Dear Hiring Manager,
In today's customer service oriented society, proactive and timely service is vital to business growth and success. Customer loyalty is always impacted when you employ the right service professional to represent you when assisting your valued customers.
My experience in the client services industry has taught me how to meet and exceed each customer's expectations. I have assisted a variety of customers through multiple different platforms. Whether it be in person or via remote communication tools, I realize that acquiring and maintaining great customers is of the utmost importance in every company.
Positioning a company for better exposure and greater marketability is a task that I have performed with success many times.
I am an excellent trainer who achieves ongoing success with her teams by constantly improving training procedures, maintaining teams' self-confidence, and enhancing people skills.
It would be a pleasure to interview with you and I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Skills You Need, "Transferable Skills"
Apply What You've Learned
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2018 Rachel Leigh
Rebecca Caldwell from Dover on October 17, 2019:
Rachel, thank you for your advice. I would like to get the research assistant job position and trying to do my best while writing my Cover Letter. I've looked through your recommendations as well as through this page: https://www.getcoverletter.com/cover-letter-exampl... . It is said that we should mention our personal achievements. So, which personal achievements are important for research assistants?