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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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