Writing a Cover Letter? 4 Things You Must Do to Stand Out

flock of penguins

Flock of penguins | iStock.com/Jeremy Richards

Cover letters are going the way of the way of the dodo. Like circling ads in the classified section and mailing off a hard copy of your resume, the tradition of including a customized cover letter with each job application is quietly dying out. Nearly half of job seekers don’t bother to include an introductory letter when sending an employer their resume, a CareerBuilder survey found.

Those on the receiving end of job applications aren’t necessarily lamenting the absence of awkward, wordy cover letters. Ninety percent of hiring managers and recruiters claim not to read them, a 2012 survey found. Only 40% of HR managers CareerBuilder surveyed said a cover letter made it more likely they’d pay attention to an application.

Not everyone can afford to ditch the cover letter, though. While an introductory note might be “totally unnecessary” if you’re applying for a tech job, it could still be expected in other industries, like finance, Ambra Benjamin, an engineering recruiter at Facebook, wrote on Quora. Cover letters may also make more of a difference if you’re applying for a job at a small company, since there’s a greater chance the HR manager will actually read it, she added. In some cases, a well-crafted cover letter can get an employer’s attention when your resume alone won’t do the job, such as when you’re switching fields or don’t have a lot of experience.

If you are going to take the time to write a cover letter, it pays to do it right. Big bloopers, like typos or mentioning the wrong company name because of a sloppy cut-and-paste job, result in a letter than hurts more than it helps. Nor is a dull-as-dirt boilerplate letter going to do you any favors. For a cover letter that helps you stand out from the crowd and leads to a job interview, follow these four tips.