Having a strong cover letter is essential if you want a potential employer to look over your resume, and possibly invite you for an interview. Your cover letter serves as an introduction for you and is incredibly important. Just like you would be put off if someone was rude or too informal when you first met them, the same is true for a cover letter; the letter is your chance to make the best first impression possible. If you leave several grammatical errors in your cover letter, you can compare that to falling all over your words out of nervousness when first meeting someone; at the same time, you wouldn’t tell a new acquaintance your life story, and you shouldn’t do so in your cover letter either. So what makes a strong cover letter? Consider the following five suggestions the next time you sit down to write a great cover letter.
1. Be concise
The person reviewing your cover letter doesn’t have time to read a novella, so keep your cover letter short. Most people agree that a resume should be one to two pages, and your cover letter should be no longer than one page. If you can’t say what you need to in a page, than you are probably being too verbose. An average of about 250 resumes are received for each corporate job opening (more or less depending on who you ask). Even if by some small miracle only fifty people apply for the job you want, and half of them are disqualified by entry-level human resource staff before the cover letters and resumes make it to the main reviewer, you are still competing with twenty-four other hopefuls. Be sure to make your cover letter short so that the reviewer actually reads it, and remember to break your points into paragraphs so that if necessary, it is easy to scan quickly for important information.
2. Customize your cover letter
This tip is one of the most important aspects of cover letter writing. Remember to always customize your cover letter; not doing so can be one of the biggest mistakes you could possibly make when applying for a job. Research the company you are applying for, and include specific details that are brief but show that you actually care about the job you are applying for. Provide specific examples from your work history that show why you are a good fit for the company, and for the specific job you are applying for. Avoid statements that could be said about many different companies, like the fact that you want to work in a specific field; your experience (or education) should show this, and if they don’t, at least explain why you want to work in the field (and at this particular job) instead of just stating that you do.
3. Highlight your skills
In addition to providing examples from your work history, you should also highlight specific skills you have. If possible, match your skills to skills that are on the job description. If you have advanced specific computer skills that were requested on the job description, be sure to include them; the same is true of any other skills you have that are particularly in demand or important for the job you are applying for. Your skills are a way to set you apart from the competition, particularly if they are unique or required specific training. Don’t just say that you have a skill, either. Be specific, and explain how you gained a skill, instead of just listing skills (“I have strong communication and computer skills” won’t cut it. Don’t make the reviewer search your resume-he or she probably won’t.)
According to Monster.com, highlight specific skills can be especially important if you are hoping to change careers. Be sure to highlighting transferable skills.
4. Be personal, but not too personal
Your cover letter should be about you, about the company you are applying to, and the specific job you want. You should write in first person, and make sure you give the reviewer a chance to get to know you a little. In addition to your skills and experience, if you can add some of your personality into the cover letter, that’s great. In order to show personality, relate a relevant story that will set you apart from other people applying for the job, do your best to find out who will interview you and address the letter to that person, and just make an effort to stand out.
A word of caution: don’t be too personal. You don’t want to bore your reader, and you especially don’t want to offend them. Make an effort to still be respectful and professional; proofread your cover letter (or have a friend do it), and take the necessary time to write a strong letter. It’s great to be personal, but being too relaxed will set you apart in a bad way.
5. Avoid red flags
One of the worst things you could do in a cover letter is to trash your current or previous boss. A future employer won’t be impressed that you want to leave your current company because you hate your boss. If you must say something about your current job, wait for an interview, and do it tactfully (explain that you are looking for more of a challenge, for example.) Also, avoid saying anything about salary unless the job advertisement requires it.
Avoid tentative phrases, like “I think” or “I hope.” Confidence is key to a strong cover letter, so be assertive when you are writing your cover letter. Be sure that you can master the workload (not hopeful), and provide an example that proves your point. If you know there is a part of the job that you don’t have the right experience for, don’t ignore that either. If you think you can wait till the interview to address it, do so, but if you know that the reviewer will notice it immediately, make sure to explain it. Be eager to learn, and if possible, explain a situation that you used the skill that might not otherwise show up on your resume.
If you follow the advice above, you should be on your way to writing a strong cover letter.