How to Write an Unforgettable Cover Letter
So this job sounds perfect!
We've all been there. You run across the job description, or a friend texts you to tell you about an opportunity. Maybe multiple people in the company have reached out to you. You read the job description, and it just sounds, well, perfect.
Almost every job you apply for—even some freelance or contract jobs—are going to require a couple of things. Namely, your updated resume and a cover letter. Google "how to write a cover letter," and you'll get a long list of ideas and several form letters.
Here's the deal: prospective employers don't want some form letter that basically restates everything they can learn from your resume. They want to get a glimpse of who you are, an idea of your character, and an understanding of why you're passionate about this job.
1. Let your personality shine.
A cover letter isn't necessarily about information. It's more about getting to know you. So, it should sound like you. If you don't use four-syllable words all the time, don't write them in your cover letter. Be appropriate—this is a letter to a prospective employer and their first interaction with you—but don't be stilted, artificial or fake. After you put in all the prerequisites of the letter (date, address, salutation, etc.), start with something that's memorable. Maybe it's a short story of how you knew this was the kind of work for you. Perhaps you tell a short story about a lesson or skill you've learned through your experience. You could address a problem or issue in the field that you know is on these employers' minds and explain how you could be part of the solution.
The point is to start with something memorable that showcases your personality and leave them wanting to find out more. Think like a marketer as you draft your letter because that's what you're doing: marketing YOU!
2. Show off your skills.
Your resume is about your education. Sure, there's some info about skills you'll bring to the table, but those are mostly just lists. Your cover letter is a chance to explain and expound on the skills you've developed through your education and your experience.
More than that, it's a chance to explain to your potential employers what exactly you'll bring to the company. It's easy to let your cover letter become all about you—why this job opportunity is astounding and why you're the best fit and how it makes sense as the next step on your resume. But that's not really the point. Your prospective employers want to know what you're going to bring to the table and add to the team. Let your cover letter explain—or even better, show—them that. In a sea of resumes with similar educational and career experiences, your cover letter will set you apart.
3. Don't write a novel.
According to the Orange County Resume Survey, 70 percent of employers want a cover letter that is a half page or shorter. That's about 250 words. Your potential employers don't need your entire life story or a recounting of your work history. So strive to keep your cover letter brief—it should never be longer than a page—and divide it up into 3-4 paragraphs. Each paragraph should have a clear point and a few sentences that support that point.
4. Tailor your letter to each application.
You shouldn't use the same cover letter to apply to each job. It might be easier to do so, but it's not the best practice. You can certainly use some parts of the letter or maybe a couple of paragraphs, but don't use the same form letter over and over. Do a little research on the company, the job, even the people on the team, and craft a letter that appeals to the concerns and desires you discern from that research.
Make sure that you look at each job description and spend a little of your letter explaining how you meet those requirements. Spend some time reading the company's website and discover the corporation's tone and voice. Match your letter to that tone.
5. It doesn't need to be formal.
Your cover letter should be honest. It should be witty and informational and give employers a glimpse of who you are. But your cover letter shouldn't be overly formal. Just because you're applying for a new job doesn't mean you have to look up more complicated words for everything you want to say. Follow Strunk and White's Rule 17 in The Elements of Style: omit unneccessary words. If you can say something simply, do that and avoid stilted, formal sentences and phrasing that you would never use in day-to-day conversation. Remember, your cover letter should actually sound like you!
A few extra tidbits!
- Check your grammar. Make sure to use spellcheck and have someone you know and trust to read over it.
- Your cover letter isn't filler or fluff. So make sure that whatever you include is there for a reason and isn't just taking up space until you can make your next point.
- There are a million form letters you can download on the internet. Use one as a template to help you get started, but don't simply fill it in with your own info. Make your letter your own!
- Make the letter easy to read and/or skim. If you can use bullets or bolding for key points, do so. BUT REMEMBER: it is a letter, not a list. Make sure your letter has a narrative or structure. Tell a story.
A cover letter can demonstrate to a hiring manager why you are the best fit for a position, so it's worth your time and effort to get it just right.— Paula Fernandes, Business News Daily