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Published on July 18, 2018

21 Cover Letter Tips to Hook The Attention of Employers

21 Cover Letter Tips to Hook The Attention of Employers

Writing cover letters can be tricky and challenging for even experienced professionals looking to make their next career move.

There are differing opinions on a what a cover letter should include to make a good first impression on hiring managers. But do not worry because this article is all about how to make sure your cover letter hooks the attention of employers.

But first, how important is a cover letter?

There’s a lot of debate around cover letters, the most important thing about cover letters is getting a potential employer to see why you are the best fit for the position.

Another reason cover letters are beginning to make a comeback is the search for employees who can communicate effectively through writing, which creates a positive impression throughout the hiring process.

Without further ado, here are 21 cover letter tips to hook the attention of employers:

1. Make sure your resume stands out first

After speaking to several recruiters and engaging in job forums, I have come to understand that although your cover letter tends to be the X factor that decides whether you get hired or not, it might not be the most important document…initially.

Yes, your resume gets reviewed first.

You only have 3-6 seconds to try to hook the attention of employers. When a hiring manager scans your resume and doesn’t find it interesting, it goes to the ‘ignore’ pile before he or she will ever get to your cover letter to see what makes you stand out.

So, this actually debunks the myth that the cover letter is a crutch for weak resumes.

Spend as much time on your resume as you do on your cover letter to present a very strong application.

If you want some practical tips on resume, check out this article:

How You Can Write an Appealing Resume

2. Keep it simple and to the point

Verbosity and flowery prose will not help make your application stand out. Instead, it might harm your chances of employment because you come across as pretentious.

For example, you don’t have to use the word “utilize” when you can simply say “use.” Instead of saying “In my humble opinion, mobile apps…”, dive into your argument by stating what you believe in “I believe that mobile apps…”

Being straightforward with your communication also displays how simple you are at summarizing important details without being wordy.

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3. Use simple formatting

Stick to Times New Romans font in size 12. Anything other than that is seen as too fancy and non-official.

Whether you double-space your letter is optional but you want to make sure that your paragraphs are skimable and not too long.

Also, adding “boxes” and “frames” should be avoided because you could lose your formatting after submission, which might skew the entire document.

4. Get rid of misspellings and grammatical mistakes

Because your resume and cover letter is the very first impression of your competency and professionalism, it is imperative to pay extra attention to your syntaxes and conjunctions.

Your cover letter isn’t the place to display creative flair by using slangs, inappropriate words or contractions.

Here are common mistakes being made today regardless of academic level or professionalism:

  • Saying “your” instead of “you’re.”
  • Saying “their” instead of “there.”
  • Saying “being” instead of “been.”

5. Explain employment gaps or career changes

There are several reasons for making sudden career changes which might veer from from the standard path your academic degree usually takes you––and that’s okay. It doesn’t disqualify you from the application process, rather, it makes you unique. You just need to highlight how special your case is.

If you have experienced any situation that could be disadvantageous to your application, something that isn’t easily explained my bullet points on your resume, the cover letter is the best place to provide an explanation for it.

Situations like taking time off to raise your children, getting deployed to another country in an act of service, etc, come to mind.

But that’s not all. What if your application going to change the course of your career?

For example, you might be trying to get into the marketing world when you have been a healthcare professional for most of your career. Try explaining the reason for this change, talk about your past, your present and most importantly, how you intend to parlay your successes and traits into your marketing role.

6. Tailor your cover letter to a specific job or interest

Employers love applicants who are willing to go the extra mile to personalize their cover letters, which is already a rarity in today’s marketplace.

Sending merge emails or cover letters to employers shows a sign of disinterest and quite frankly, laziness.

For instance, don’t just send a cover letter to the accounting department; respond to the posting about the need for a payroll specialist.

7. Have a cover letter template ready

Sometimes, it helps to have a plan in place before responding to job postings. One of the ways to do that is by having a template that you can always customize to each opportunity whenever you want.

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Templates simplify the process of getting things done and would cut your time in half so that you can pay attention to other details.

A very solid cover letter would have 3 parts: an introduction, the body, and a conclusion. You don’t need to get fancier than that.

8. Always follow instructions

One of the biggest reasons for failing to get to the interview stage is lack of attention to detail. And as a result of this, majority of applicants do not receive any call backs.

If a job posting calls for cover letters in PDF attachments or in the body of your email, do just that.

Failure to follow instructions might be seen as a sign of insubordination by prospective employers who can only judge you through a computer screen.

9. Avoid generic salutations

It’s very tempting to use “Dear sir/ma” or “to whom this may concern.” However, I would advise you to refrain from this.

First, you could totally guess the gender of your hiring manager wrongly. Secondly, it is simply not in good taste because it sounds lazy.

Instead, you can always go with “Dear hiring manager” or “Dear XYZ team” which is gender neutral.

10. Research the company you’re applying to

Another alternative is to conduct a research to know who is specifically in charge of handling applications. This way, you can address that person personally in your cover letter.

Also, know the company you’re applying to and what your position entails. For example, a little homework is needed to know if a marketing company will require you to go from door-to-door to sell company wares.

Make your cover letter stand out even more by highlighting something you have in common with the hiring manager. Are you acquainted with someone from a different department? Did you previously complete an internship with the organization? Did you and your hiring manager graduate from the same alma mater?

It’s simple. Do your research.

11. Avoid bad-mouthing your previous employers

Your cover letter is not a place to spill dramatic events that led to your departure from your previous job.

If you are looking to hook the attention of potential employers, you want to come across as someone trustworthy and reliable.

12. Avoid rehashing your resume.

Don’t regurgitate what you wrote in your resume just to “take up space.” Make every word in your cover letter earn its place and that means not re-creating your resume in prose form. The cover letter is not the place for that.

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13. Do share powerful personal stories that support your application

In everything you do, don’t forget that you have a personal brand. Yes, you are a brand. You are a solution and an asset to your employer.

As much as you’re attracted to the companies you apply to, employers want to be attracted to you too.

So, do you have powerful personal stories that can support your application? Have you done something majority of people in your shoes can never dream of and have learned valuable lessons from it? Share this in your cover letter.

For instance, in an application to a telemetry unit, a nursing student could share how scared and inspired she was by the teamwork she witnessed during a resuscitation of an unconscious patient when a code blue was activated.

The list is endless but it all starts by taking note of your daily reflections and highlighting stories worth sharing.

14. Discuss numeric results with emotion

It is rare to see applicants who possess and can blend both hard and soft skills while communicating. Imagine how many wonders this would do for you if you can convey this through written form.

Knock your application out of the pack back by learning how to connect statistics to people. Don’t just talk about percentages and how much money you have made your previous employer; talk about how many lives have been improved simply by designing more effective products in the marketplace.

15. Show how your values align

It’s not just about your skills, accolades or the academic institution you attended. Employers want to know that they’re bringing on someone who can be the face of the company, and someone they can always rely on.

16. Address a challenge your employer is currently facing

If you are in a creative or visual field, this might sound very interesting and doable to you.

Employers love applicants who take initiative to solve problems before they become disasters. Tacking on a current challenge shows that you are familiar with the organization’s mode of operation and are already invested in its outcome.

However, be careful to stay away from controversial topics (unless that is exactly what is required of you).

17. Talk about your failures too

There is nothing more humanizing and endearing than reading about a perceived “fall from grace” from experts we love and admire. You too, can glean from this strategy––but with a caveat.

After failing, what happened next? Was there a comeback?

For instance, if you ran a side hustle while in college but had to quit due to lack of finances, it might not necessarily be seen as a complete failure. You have learned what most employees haven’t gotten the chance to do yet: better time management, delegation, managing others and providing excellent customer service.

18. Tell them how you learned about the opportunity

Put your networking experience to good use by leading with that upfront in your cover letter. Keep track of your personal and professional connections, and don’t be afraid to use them in your job search.

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Doing this adds another layer of personal touch to your application––as long as it is done in good taste. You don’t want to come across as too pushy.

Here’s an example:

We met yesterday at the open house of the newly constructed Hubbs Center- I believe it’s an annex, where we talked at length on varying topics. What an amazing experience! It was nice meeting you, learning about what you do, and how I could somehow be a part of that.

19. Don’t just share; ask for the job

While you’re convincing the hiring manager that you’re the best person for the job by sharing your experiences, values and so on, don’t forget one crucial thing: ask for the job.

Yes, you need to ask for the job. The whole pitch isn’t complete without you finally asking to be interviewed

20. Thank the recruiter for taking the time to review your cover letter

Whether cover letters are dead or not, it takes an actual human to read one and respond to one. So, always remember to say thank you!

21. Always include your contact information

At the end of the day, you want to get hired and be informed that you got the job. One way to do that is to actually leave an email address and a phone number you can be reached at. It does you a huge disservice to do amazingly well on your cover letter only to end on a low note.

A simple way to fix this is to use the same name/address header on your resume on your cover letter so that you can keep things consistent every step of the way.

The verdict on cover letters

Some hiring managers read them and some do not. While it may not be the most popular piece of document submitted on job portals, it just might be the one that gets your hired.

Therefore, it pays to know how to write a great one.

If you want more suggestions on how to nail your cover letter, Lifehack’s Chief of Product Management has some bonus tips for you:

I’ve Read More Than 500 Cover Letters and Here’s What I’ve Spotted

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

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Margaret Olatunbosun

Creative coach who teaches high-achievers how to thrive at the intersection of creativity, passion, and profit.

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Last Updated on April 17, 2019

10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

10 Essential Soft Skills That Will Help Advance Your Career

What’s the secret of professional success? Some of it lies in the mastery of your discipline and all the technical skills you have to carry out your job; but a much bigger part lies in the soft skills list you possess.

Soft skills are your people or relationship skills—how well you get along with others and your ability to communicate and collaborate—as well as the personal characteristics you bring to the job, such as optimism, a can-do attitude and the motivation to work hard. These skills are not always easy to point out, but their absence can cause serious problems and negatively affect the whole work atmosphere.

They say that hard skills will help you get the job, but soft skills will help you get along—and get ahead. With that in mind, here’s the top-10 essential soft skills list to help you advance your career.

1. Communication Skills

Communication skills are hands-down the most sought-after soft skill that bosses want, and this one ability covers a lot of ground.

To communicate well, you have to listen carefully, interpret the context of the conversation, express yourself clearly, persuade others of your point of view, check your body language and use an engaging presentation style that won’t intimidate or bore your audience. That’s a big ask!

Your personality traits can influence the way you communicate with others. For instance, some people get straight to the point and center their arguments around facts and logic; others are cooperative and sensitive to how others feel. Both these approaches are equally valuable but there can be misunderstandings if you don’t understand where the other person is coming from.

Taking a comprehensive personality test can help you understand why you communicate the way you do and where your blind spots are. It can also help you understand other communication styles is so you can tailor your communication to the person you’re dealing with.

After all, connecting with your conversation partner is the hallmark of good communication.

2. Flexibility

Change is an essential part of any business. Companies need employees who are flexible enough to work with new initiatives, open to new ideas, and generally are able to tough it out when things don’t go as planned.

Research has found a link between job performance and flexibility over the long term because there will be times when you have to step outside your routine and rise to fresh challenges that didn’t exist before.

Being flexible doesn’t mean you have to hop into a new task or job role like an expert. Rather, it’s about showing you’re willing to accept new responsibility and learn different things.

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Bosses look for people who are prepared to step outside their comfort zones and are open to alternative solutions when their first idea doesn’t work.

3. Being a Team Player

Working on a team can be challenging but learning to do it well can definitely help you get ahead in your career. Employers look for people who can negotiate, cooperate and manage conflicts with other people to achieve a common goal. That includes the ability to build lasting relationships with customers and clients.

What makes a good team player? Essentially, it’s someone who knows the goal and knows her role. Employers look for evidence that you know your strengths, your responsibilities and how you can best contribute to the team, then put those skills into action by sharing ideas and communicating in a respectful manner. That’s the definition of being a good team player.

This is another area where taking a personality test can help you get ahead. When teams work together, each member brings a unique set of skills and qualities to the group. Research has shown that different combinations of personalities affect how teams collaborate and how productive they are.

Knowing who you are, and how you work on a team, can drive new insights and open the door to better teamwork.

4. Positive Mental Attitude

There are plenty of things you can’t change at work, like the people you work with or the fact that the printer is broken again. The one thing you can change is how much you let these things bother you.

Bosses like people who are calm, rational and upbeat—those who diffuse tensions in the workplace, not get all grouchy and go around slamming doors.

Studies show that people who maintain a sunny disposition have better relationships at work, are happier in their jobs and make better decisions than those who whine and complain. Some suggest that a positive mental attitude can also make you live longer—which means it’s beneficial for every area of your life![1]

It’s not always easy to keep a “glass half full” mentality when work is stressful and the deadlines are piling up. But there are some things you can do to help maintain a positive attitude. Laughing at your unfortunate circumstances keeps the work environment positive, and taking “sanity” breaks can help you keep your cool in high-pressure situations.

Managers look for positive mental attitude in a team member that is ready for a promotion, so it really does pay to keep your cool in challenging situations.

5. A Strong Work Ethic

People with a strong work ethic are committed to the role, persevere when things get tough and are inspired by challenge. These people are ambassadors for the organization, and will always be seen as top talent and ideal candidates.

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If you can exhibit this skill, then expect to be seen as a great candidate, eligible for new opportunities and positions throughout your career.

Since a strong work ethic can mean different things to different people, it helps to show specific examples of your exceptional work ethic during a performance appraisal or interview. For instance, you might talk about:

  • A time when you persisted in the face of challenges and did not shy away from hard work.
  • How you volunteered to help with projects even though these tasks did not form part of your job description.
  • The networking, workplace learning and skills betterment you’ve undertaken, which shows ambition and drive (people with a strong work ethic have those qualities in spades).
  • How you own your mistakes and never, ever point the finger of blame at others.

For help with building a strong work ethic, check out these tips: How to Build a Reliable Work Ethic

6. Public Speaking

Who’s terrified of public speaking? Pretty much everyone, since public speaking is America’s number one fear, ahead of death at number five and loneliness at number seven.

Yet, according to Warren Buffett, mastering this one skill you could increase your personal value by 50 percent.[2] That’s huge!

If you’re not natural at public speaking, you’re in good company. Buffett had to work hard to overcome his stage fright and once dropped out of a public-speaking course before it started—because he was afraid of public speaking! He eventually realized that he needed to build up his confidence by just doing it; over and over in front of small groups.

For a more structured approach, Toastmasters International teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a variety of pathways. Membership of this non-profit looks good on your resume but the real payoff will come when you can put your newfound skills to use on the job or in the interview room.

Or, you can check out this advice: The Ultimate Public Speaking Tips to Hook and Impress Any Audience

7. Integrity

From a manager’s point of view, the two integrity skills that will set you apart are:

  • Always doing what you say you will do
  • Owning an error instead of minimizing or hiding it

…even when no one is around to check up on you.

There are lots of people who have climbed the ladder without scruples, but they are not the people who others trust, respect and support when promotion time comes around.

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Behaving with integrity is a safe and consistent way to enhance your reputation and achieve your professional goals.

8. Managing Your Time

Phone calls, texts, Slack pings, meetings, huddles, side projects, multitasking—we are busier today than any generation before us. There’s no denying the workplace is an incredibly distracting place to be.

A lot of us have traded effectiveness for busyness which we wear as a badge of honor, both as a proxy for productivity and to show our value to the company. But what bosses want, what they really, really want, is someone who actually gets stuff done on time.

Time management is not merely the art of being on time, but of managing your time so you focus on the projects that really matter and add value to the business. This means prioritizing well, sticking to schedules, delegating, and not getting distracted by tasks that are easier to perform or less important. It means planning ahead and learning when it’s appropriate to say no.

Time management can be a tough skill to maintain, but not a difficult one to pick up. Monitor your actions for a few days—how long do your tasks take to finish? What’s interrupting you? What causes you to lose focus? Once you have the answers to these questions, you can set a schedule for yourself to make sure you’re spending your time wisely and this valuable asset is never wasted.

These 20 Quick Time Management Tips to Super Boost Your Productivity are also great to try.

9. Assertiveness

In any workplace, you typically will find people with the following conflict styles:

  • Passive: Those who go out of their way to avoid conflict.
  • Passive-aggressive: Those who express their negative feelings through actions rather than words.
  • Aggressive: Those who respond to conflict in a hostile and rude manner. These people get their opinion heard but they won’t make any friends in the process.
  • Assertive: People who stick up for their rights while still respecting the rights of others.

Managers look for assertiveness above all other styles because it allows decisions to be made without conflict or alienating people.

How do you use this information for yourself?

It starts with understanding your personality so you can anticipate how you will react when conflict arises and address your own shortcomings. Then, you can start influencing the team for top results, and securing your own career advancement in the process.

Learn how to be assertive and gain respect:

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How to Be Assertive and Stand up for Yourself the Smart Way

10. Creative Thinking

LinkedIn recently analyzed over 50,000 skills that employers search for when looking for candidates to find out what skills are currently in demand.[3] Taking the number-one slot on the 2019 soft skills list was creativity: the ability to solve problems and think outside the box.

Creativity is about bringing fresh, and sometimes unorthodox, ideas to the table. This helps companies to innovate, and companies that do not innovate will not survive very long.

How do you showcase your creative thinking skills? The golden rule is to participate.

Be brave and share your ideas during group brainstorming sessions. Volunteer to run a society, networking event or recruitment drive. Ask “what if” questions: “What if we add this information to the client welcome pack?” “What if we eliminate step 3 from the process?”

These activities demonstrate that you’re prepared to go beyond “business as usual” towards creative problem solving—an ability that will serve you every day, all throughout your career.

You can learn to unleash your creativity power:

What Is Creativity? We All Have It, and Need It

Final Thoughts

The good news? Every item on this soft skills list can be learned. Although you may feel lacking in certain areas, taking an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses will allow you to focus in on the areas that you’ll benefit from developing.

So take an inventory of your personality, skills, and talents. This will give you a baseline for your communication style, attitude to change, conscientiousness and more. You can then identify your weak areas and develop strategies for improving your team-building, assertiveness and conflict skills.

The better news? The effort is worth it. Developing your soft skills opens the door to a new job or a promotion, and helps you succeed once you get there.

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Featured photo credit: Rachael Gorjestani via unsplash.com

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