You sit down to write a cover letter for a job application you’re unbelievably excited about yet you’re immediately filled with a sense of dread. You need your letter to be impressive, creative, and impactful, with a little flair of fun personality. But a half hour later you’ve only managed to write (and delete) the same sentence twelve times. Sure, we all know that writing a resume can be challenging at best. But crafting the perfect cover letter? Well, that’s enough to have you tearing your hair out. After all, your resume is actually pretty cut and dried—it’s a basic summary of your skills and experience. In contrast, a cover letter is the chance to share your story, show your personality, and convince an organization why you’d be an amazing addition to their team.
Sounds like a difficult undertaking, doesn’t it? Don’t worry—anybody who has ever attempted to craft a cover letter is all too familiar with this feeling of intimidation. Yes, writing your cover letter takes some thought but it’s completely doable—and necessary! Luckily, I’ve rounded up tips and tricks to help you through. So let’s familiarize ourselves with the basics of a cover letter.
What is a cover letter?
First things first, you need to have a solid understanding of the purpose of your cover letter. This document is supplemental to your standard resume, and serves to introduce you as a candidate. It also details the specific job you’re applying for, highlights your most applicable skills and accomplishments, and concludes by requesting an in-person meeting.
You may feel like you have tons of important information about yourself that you’d like to share. However, it’s important to keep your cover letter as concise as possible. After all, recruiters and hiring managers likely won’t take the time to read your War and Peace length document. So, stick to about three paragraphs (or half a page) at most.
Now that you know the nuts and bolts, let’s get into a few tips that you should keep in mind in order to craft an impressive cover letter that gets you to the top of the applicant pile!
1. Keep Branding in Mind
You worked hard on your resume. You polished the content, went through it with a fine-tooth comb to check for typos and errors, and even spent hours agonizing over the perfect font and layout. So, think of your resume as the touchstone for your personal brand. Your cover letter should fit cohesively with those design choices.
If you’re actually creating a tangible cover letter document—and not just jotting a letter in the body of the email—ensure that you maintain the same layout, fonts, and colors that you utilized in your resume. This presents a cohesive personal brand, and makes your documents immediately recognizable as a pair.
Plus, if you’re applying for a job in marketing or advertising, demonstrating your knowledge of effective branding definitely doesn’t hurt!
2. Don’t Duplicate Your Resume
While you definitely want your cover letter to complement your resume, you absolutely don’t want it to be a carbon copy of that very same information. It’s important to remember that your cover letter is not the narrative form of your resume—it should provide some additional value.
With limited space and incomplete sentences, resumes are pretty restrictive. So, your cover letter is your chance to expand on anything you couldn’t squeeze into your resume (at least, not without 6-point font and non-existent margins), and also explain why you’re a great fit for the company.
3. Address Appropriately
Oh, the challenge of figuring out how the heck to address your letter! Your first step? Do some research to try to find the name of the person that will likely be on the receiving end of your letter. Whether it’s the hiring manager or the head of the department you’re applying for, including a specific name at the start of your document shows that you were committed enough to do some digging about the company.
You never want to include generic phrases such as “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.” They’re old news and utterly useless. If you can’t find the name of the person you’re looking for, address the letter to the entire department or team you’re applying with (i.e. “Dear CompanyXYZ Sales Team”).
4. Ensure Contact Information is Obvious
Sure, you’ve included your name, email address, and phone number on your resume. But, that doesn’t mean you should neglect to do the same thing on your cover letter. After all, what would happen if these two documents were separated? Trust me—you don’t want to make the recruiter do extra work in order to track you down.
What’s your best bet? Create a clean and visually appealing header that features your name and contact information. Then, include that at the top of both of your documents. It ensures your contact information is obvious, and also helps to keep your branding consistent!
5. Pull Out Specific Accomplishments
As mentioned earlier, your cover letter is your chance to expand on the skills and experience included in your resume. But, as you need to keep your letter concise, you simply don’t have the space to elaborate on everything. So, pull out your most impressive and applicable skills and accomplishments, and then provide some additional information about those.
Also, if you’re looking to really emphasize your qualifications, consider working in some positive feedback or testimonials from previous coworkers or bosses. After all, you can say plenty of nice things about yourself. But, hearing it from someone else really helps to drive the point home.
6. Tailor It for Every Job Application
You already know you should make some tweaks to your resume for each job application. But, if you’re like most of us, that likely means you just swap out a few words here and there and ensure that nothing is terribly outdated.
Your cover letter, however, should be highly customized for each job you apply for. In addition to combing the job description for relevant skills that you can point out, you should also read through the organization’s website, blog posts, and social media accounts to get a feel for their company culture and personality. Then, craft your letter using a similar voice and style. This is a simple (and somewhat sneaky!) way to demonstrate you’d be a great fit with their team.
7. Have Fun with It
Yes, writing your cover letter can be stressful. But, don’t be afraid to have a little fun with it! It’s nowhere near as stiff and formal as your resume document, and it’s really your chance to showcase a bit of your personality.
While you want to make sure to get your point across and effectively highlight the correct information, you can still inject some individuality. Just think—recruiters are much more likely to remember a cover letter that they actually enjoyed reading.
To attach, or not to attach?
Now that you have the perfect cover letter, how the heck do you get it out there? In the old days, you’d mail a hard copy of your resume and cover letter to a company’s physical location. Today, you’re probably applying through a job board or via email.
While using email to apply for a position is convenient, it can complicate some of these standard application elements. After all, the application specifically requested a resume and a cover letter. So, do you paste the contents of your letter into the body of your email? Or, do you attach it? If you attach it, what on earth do you put into the body of the email—a smiley face?
You’re not alone with these questions. And, unfortunately there’s really no hard and fast rule about the best way to go about this.
Usually, if the application explicitly asks for a cover letter, you’re better off attaching it to your email to make it obvious that you followed the instructions. In the body of your message, a simple note such as: “Dear John Doe, Attached please find my application materials for the XYZ Position. Thanks for your consideration, and I’m looking forward to hearing from you soon!” will fit the bill. Just remember to attach your materials as PDFs, to ensure that the organization will be able to open your document.
However, if the employer specifically stated no attachments, you’ll obviously want to paste your cover letter directly in the email body. This also works if your cover letter is on the shorter side (approximately 300 words). Plus, it’s a surefire way to ensure that your letter actually gets read!
There’s no doubt about it—crafting a cover letter that adequately summarizes your expertise and background (without extending to eight pages!) can be an intimidating challenge. But, keep these tips in mind and you’re sure to write a letter that puts you at the top of the recruiter’s pile!
image via Dreams + Jeans