Creating an effective application that catches the hiring manager’s eye is a challenge. That’s why we’ve compiled this list of cover letter writing tips to help you supercharge your job hunt.
Tips for Writing a Cover Letter: The Fundamentals
Let’s start at the beginning. Before you set pen to paper (or more likely, start typing), you have some research to do. But don’t fret — as long as you have a working internet connection, you’re all set.
1. Ditch “To Whom It May Concern” and “Dear Sir/Madam”
No one appreciates receiving mail from someone who hasn’t bothered to find out their name. How do you feel when you receive mail addressed “To the tenant” or “To the homeowner”? It probably doesn’t make your eyes light up with excitement. In fact, such mail likely earns a one-way ticket to your recycling bin.
It’s the same for recruiters and hiring managers. Don’t choose the lazy option of using “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam” unless you want to be overlooked.
Instead, find out the hiring manager’s name. If it’s not specified in the job posting, check the company’s website. With a little bit of luck, you should be able to find it.
If all else fails, call the company and ask for the right name — they should be happy to give it to you if you say you’re addressing a job application.
Don’t forget, if you’re sending out a physical copy of your application, address it to the hiring manager so that it’ll get to the right person.
2. Find Out How the Company Writes
A surefire way of showing you’re a good fit for a company is by writing your cover letter in a way that is similar to the content it has written in the past. You can learn how a company writes (i.e., its tone and style) by looking at its website — perhaps it has a blog that you can check out to get a better idea.
If the company keeps its language formal, then you should too in your cover letter. If its writing is more casual, then consider making your cover letter a little less serious.
3. Research the Company
Read up on the company’s history, its goals, and the challenges it’s facing. This will give you some insight into what it’s looking for in potential candidates, and you can tailor your cover letter to satisfy the company’s needs.
As an added bonus, you can demonstrate your newfound knowledge in the interview to earn some brownie points.
4. Match Your Cover Letter to Your Resume
There are dozens of eye-catching cover letter templates available online.
If you choose one, use a matching resume template so that your cover letter and resume complement each other aesthetically. This will make them stand out to recruiters.
5. Double-Check the Company’s Application Requirements
Read through all the requirements in the job posting — you might miss something vital otherwise. And given hundreds of applications will be sent in for the average opening, missing even a small detail might see your application trashed. Some examples include:
- A required format for the email subject line (e.g., [Name — Position])
- All necessary attachments, such as your resume, cover letter, and portfolio. Remember to include your name in the filenames for all attachments (e.g., “Naomi Smalls — Cover Letter.pdf”)
6. Review Cover Letter Examples from Your Industry
No one expects you to write the perfect cover letter completely on your own. Before you start, gain some inspiration by checking out a few high-quality cover letter samples and noting what they do well.
You will notice that the writers of these cover letters use:
- numbers to quantify their work success
- action verbs to electrify their writing
- specific job duties to make things clear for hiring managers
7. Write a Unique Cover Letter for Each Application
You need a tailored cover letter for each application. Think about it: each company is different, so every role requires something unique.
Your cover letter needs to persuade the hiring manager that you’re passionate about the job they’re posting, so you’ll have to create a custom one for each application you’re sending out. If a hiring manager suspects that you’ve sent them a generic cover letter, your application will be headed straight for the trash.
Cover Letter Advice (Content Ideas)
Once you’re ready to start writing, these tips for writing a cover letter will ensure yours is high quality.
8. Don’t Regurgitate Your Resume
It might seem like copy-pasting sections from your resume is an easy, quick way to fill your cover letter, but resist the urge. The hiring manager won’t appreciate reading the same content twice.
Instead, flesh out your resume’s bullet points in your cover letter. Identify the personality attributes that ensured you performed well, as in this mechanic resume sample:
In this bullet point, the mechanic simply described his duties. By contrast, in his cover letter, he fleshes this out by describing how his personality allows him to greet and talk to visitors:
He shows that he quickly gets on with other people, and even provided a statistic to prove this fact.
Use your cover letter to flesh out the points you’ve made in your resume.
9. Quantify Your Previous Accomplishments
It’s not enough to list the responsibilities you had in your previous roles — you need to add numbers or percentages to provide some context.
For example, instead of saying he handled contractors’ bids, filed taxes, and found tenants for his properties, this property manager provides some insight into his performance by adding some statistics:
These statistics give hiring managers an idea of your performance and what you’ve accomplished thus far in your career.
Always add numbers to your cover letter to prove you go beyond your basic duties and show your new company that they will benefit by hiring you.
10. Demonstrate That You’re a Cultural Fit
Companies increasingly prefer to hire people who fit into their “corporate culture.”
Many companies’ websites contain a page about their corporate cultures, like this example from GlaxoSmithKline, a prominent British pharmaceutical research company:
The lefthand article in this screenshot shows that GlaxoSmithKline values honesty, while the righthand article highlights their dedication to their work.
By checking out these pages, you can ensure that a company’s culture speaks to you. Plus, you can use the information to show you’re a cultural fit in your cover letter.
Then, read about the company’s values on their about-us page, and be sure to mention them in your cover letter if they align with your own.
You can even take a look at a company’s Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts to get a feel for its style.
Finally, think back through your past projects, and mention any that sound similar to the projects you’d likely be working on with the new company. Doing so will show the hiring manager that you’d be able to hit the ground running.
11. Don’t Write “I’m Writing to Apply for [Position Name]”
This phrase is an overused, borderline cliche cover-letter opening.
Instead, you should pick a more creative opening for your cover letter. Perhaps you can mention something you read in the news about the company that impressed you. Or explain where your passion for the company’s product (or service) came from. A short anecdote like this also has the advantage of giving them an insight into your personality.
In this example, the applicant states that they read about the school in the local newspaper, which indicates that they do their research, care about their local community, and have a good memory for the school’s successes. These are all good characteristics for a teacher.
12. Avoid Clichés
The world of job applications is full of clichés and corporate buzzwords, so avoid describing yourself as “self-motivated” or a “go-getter” because doing so won’t set you apart from any of the other hundreds of job seekers.
And nothing screams unoriginality more than proudly proclaiming that you “think outside the box,” which most applicants will claim somewhere on their letter.
Recruiters have heard it all before — multiple times a day.
Thus, aim for originality. After all, nothing says you’d bring a new approach to the role than a creative cover letter.
13. Pepper Action Verbs Throughout Your Cover Letter
Action verbs help you show leadership, talent, and initiative in the way you performed your duties at previous companies.
Compare the following examples:
Met with representatives of other companies to improve relationships.
Cultivated relationships with representatives of other companies.
“Cultivated” is a better choice than “met” because it shows you had a much more active role in forming and maintaining relationships with other businesses. “Met” simply implies that you were present in meetings but doesn’t reveal how you accomplished anything.
14. Mention the Job Title
Despite the advice in Tip No. 11, you should mention which role you’re seeking somewhere in your cover letter. After all, the hiring manager might be filling several positions.
If you’re sending your application by email, include the job title in the subject (e.g., “Vanessa Mateo — Makeup Artist”).
On the other hand, if you’re sending out a physical copy of your application, you can put the job title on its own line before the greeting:
RE: Application for Automotive Technician
15. Employ a Call-To-Action
A “call-to-action” does exactly what you would think — it calls on someone to act. In the case of a cover letter, you’re calling on the hiring manager to contact you. Give them an open invitation to get in touch:
“Please feel free to contact me at your earliest convenience.”
And repeat your phone number and email address here so that the hiring manager doesn’t have to search for it:
“I can be reached at 415-253-1470 or HarveyCastro@gmail.com.”
Finalizing Your Cover Letter: Guidelines & Suggestions
Key to a good cover letter are the details: ensure you’ve checked for consistency and have proofread it several times.
16. Keep It to a Single Page Max
Hiring managers are pressed for time, and they have no intention of reading a multi-page cover letter. Keep yours to one page. But don’t fill the page: 300–500 words is about the sweet spot.
17. Write Numbers Consistently
The rules on how to write numbers are simple: numbers between one and nine should be spelled out. Anything above 10 should be typed in numerals.
18. Use an Eye-Catching Postscript (P.S.)
Over 90% of readers read the P.S. before the letter because it’s short and digestible. You can use this fact to your advantage by summarizing why you’d be a great fit at the company in your P.S.
Here’s an example:
P.S.: I’m looking forward to discussing how I achieved a 17% decrease in customer complaints with you.
19. Pick a Suitable Font
Writing a cover letter is not the time to get adventurous with your font selections. Stick to a widely accepted font style, such as Times New Roman or Arial.
Don’t go below a 12-point font size either. Otherwise, the hiring manager will strain their eyes trying to read your application (which will not leave a good impression).
20. Clarify Your Abbreviations
You may have used a particular abbreviation so much in a previous role that using it has become second nature. But don’t assume that everyone will understand it. Luckily, there’s an easy fix: don’t use abbreviations!
This is particularly vital in complex industries, like law, IT, or medicine, where LLD might mean “late-life depression” or “leg length differential”(!)
21. Proofread, Proofread, Proofread (Then Proofread Again)
You’d be surprised how easily a typo can slip into your cover letter. To catch them all, you need to go through your cover letter not just once, but several times. And enlist the help of a friend to proofread it again.
Long sentences will make the hiring manager’s brain switch off, so avoid them.
These tips are sure to turbocharge your cover letter and your overall application. But they aren’t the be-all and end-all of cover letter writing. Check out our full guide to writing a cover letter for a complete walkthrough.
And if you’re pushed for time, you can use our simple and free-to-use cover letter builder to generate a high-quality cover letter in minutes.