This article has been just updated: January 15, 2024
The ever-changing hiring landscape has been made harder to navigate by modern digital recruiting practices, and many job candidates are not even sure whether cover letters are still necessary. The answer is short and clear: yes, they absolutely are! In fact, the importance of cover letters has only increased with the rise of digital recruiting and the fierce competition it brought.
According to most recruiting professionals, you should put at least as much energy into the cover letter as your CV. Think of your cover letter as your introduction to the company. Just like any other introduction, the cover letter provides you with an opportunity to make a good first impression on your prospective employer, which is why you should approach it as your chance to shine.
We’ve boiled down everything you need to know to seven tips, but the difficult part is turning our tips into an amazing cover letter that is guaranteed to catch the attention of the hiring manager and help you get one step closer to your dream job.
1 Make Your Cover Letter Job-Specific
Every job is different, and every cover letter you send should reflect this fact. While you might think that it’s enough to re-use the same cover letter over and over again, changing only a few lines each time you send it, we assure you that hiring managers can spot a generic cover letter from a distance.
A generic cover letter tells hiring managers that they’re dealing with a job candidate who isn’t motivated enough to do more than the bare minimum. Yes, doing only the bare minimum might be enough to get you some job, but it will never be enough to get you a good job, let alone a great job.
The jobs that are actually worth fighting for are not given to average job candidates. They are given to those who are willing and able to go the extra mile to make themselves stand out. The easiest way how you can make your cover letter stand out is to customize it to the job for which you’re applying.
2 Don’t Rehash Your CV
The laziest way how you can write a cover letter is to rehash your CV. The problem is that the things hiring managers want to read in a cover letter are not the same things that are communicated by your CV, which is essentially a written overview of a person’s experience and other qualifications for a job opportunity.
Your cover letter should encourage the hiring manager to read your CV—not the other way around. It should clearly communicate your personal story, why you want the job, and what you as an individual can bring to the company.
The cover letter also provides you with an opportunity to address any gaps your resume may contain. But if you decide to talk about those two years you spent working on your failed business after high-school, make sure to do it a way that tells something positive about you, such as how you’ve learned from the experience.
Some of the things you should mention are:
- The name of the person you’re writing to.
- The position of the person you’re writing to or the name of their company.
- A summary of why you’re right for the job.
- A call to action that shows your enthusiasm.
3 Don’t Talk Only About Yourself
Always remember that your cover letter shouldn’t be just about you. Make sure to mention the company you are applying for and tell them why attracts you to them. Be as specific as possible and avoid stating what’s obvious. The hiring manager knows when the company was founded, and they’re well aware of the company’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint.
What the hiring manager doesn’t know is why you’re personally impressed with the company’s commitment to reducing its carbon footprint and how you could help the company achieve its goal.
If you don’t know much about the company, do some research and don’t be afraid to send a few emails to its marketing or public relations department—just not from your main email account. You’ll be better off delaying sending your resume and cover letter by a few days than writing a cookie-cutter cover letter.
4 Make It Look Great
It’s not just the content of your cover letter that will, hopefully, leave a lasting impression on the hiring manager but also its form. If you’re not a graphic designer, you most likely have no clue how to design a good-looking cover letter, but that’s not a problem. Fortunately, there are many websites with professionally designed cover letter templates, including Envato.
Cover letter templates are not expensive, and they are infinitely better than plain Word documents. It doesn’t take much skill or effort to fill in a cover letter template, and nobody will ever ask you if you’ve created it yourself. And if they ask, just tell them the truth—it’s the effort that counts after all.
Just make sure to send your professionally designed cover letter as a PDF document to guarantee that it will display at it should on all devices and across all operating systems. Include the .docx version only when asked to do so.
Here are some basic styling tips you should always obey:
- 1” – 1.5” margins.
- 12-point font or larger.
- A professional font style.
- A uniform alignment.
5 Don’t Be Afraid to Drop Names
Everyone starts their cover letter with, “Dear sir/madam.” Your goal should be to stand out, and one very effective way how to do just that is to address the hiring manager by name.
- Address with: “Dear Mr. Smith/Dear Ms. Jones”
- Thank the hiring manager for their time: “Thank you for taking the time to consider my candidacy.”
Sometimes, the name of the hiring manager is mentioned in the job offer, and sometimes it takes a bit of googling to find it. Don’t be afraid to mention any personal connections you have within the company, but try to be nonchalant about it. You don’t want to come off as someone who expects to get the job just because they know someone who works for the company.
6 Keep It Short and Sweet
You should try to keep your cover letter between 1/2 and 2/3 of a page long. Two-pagers are completely out of the question, and you can’t reasonably expect the hiring manager to carefully read dozens of one-page-long cover letters sent in response to a single job offer.
Most hiring managers skim and look for the juiciest parts, so your goal should be to make every paragraph as interesting as possible. In other words, each paragraph of your cover letter should be interesting enough to convince the hiring manager to carefully read it from start to finish without skipping a single sentence. So, skip lengthy exposition and get to the point straight away.
7 Thoroughly Proofread Your Cover Letter
The last tip should be obvious, but experience tells us that we need to mention it because way too many job candidates send their cover letters without proofreading them first. It takes just one grammar mistake to make the hiring manager toss your resume into the garbage, which is why you should never skip proofreading.
If you know that your grammar is lacking or if English isn’t your first language, we recommend you pay someone else to proofread your resume for you. Sites like Fiverr.com or Upwork.com allow you to easily find a freelance proofreader willing to correct your cover letter within 24 hours.
A cover letter should typically be no longer than one page, with concise paragraphs and a clear, professional structure. Your language should be succinct and to the point, aiming to create an impact without unnecessary verbosity.
It’s best to do some research to try and find the name of the hiring manager. However, if this isn’t possible, use a general but professional salutation like Dear Hiring Manager or Dear [Company Name] Team to maintain a personal touch.
Absolutely. Tailoring your cover letter to each role is crucial because it shows that you have done your research and are genuinely interested in the company. Referencing specific elements of the job description and explaining how your skills and experience match is key to standing out.
The opening of a cover letter should grab the reader’s attention. Start with a confident and engaging line that reflects your excitement about the role and the company. Mention how you learned about the job and why you’re excited to apply. Be direct and enthusiastic.
Using keywords from the job description in your cover letter is highly important as it shows you have what the employer is looking for and it can help your application pass through Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS). However, make sure to integrate them naturally into your writing.
Personal anecdotes can be effective if they are relevant and demonstrate key skills or qualities required for the job. Use these stories to illustrate your professional achievements and how your experiences make you a good fit for the position.
Conclude your cover letter with a strong and proactive closing statement. Express your enthusiasm about the opportunity to interview and reiterate how you could contribute to the company. A line such as I look forward to the opportunity to discuss how I can contribute to your team works well.
Typically, it’s not advisable to mention salary expectations in a cover letter unless the job listing specifically asks for it. It’s best to wait for the interview to discuss salary, so as not to limit negotiations before you’ve had a chance to demonstrate your value.
References are generally not necessary in a cover letter and are better reserved for later in the hiring process when requested. Your cover letter should focus on your skills and experiences that make you a great candidate for the position.
In your cover letter, instead of repeating what’s on your resume, expand on specific examples or experiences that showcase your skills. Use it as an opportunity to tell the story behind your achievements and how they align with the job requirements.
Your cover letter tone should be professional yet personable. Aim to convey enthusiasm and confidence without coming across as overly casual or familiar. It should strike a balance between approachability and respect for the formal nature of the application process.
Show your knowledge of the company by mentioning recent news, projects, or values that align with your professional philosophy. Explaining how you can specifically contribute to their initiatives will demonstrate that you have done your research and are serious about your application.
Unless you are applying for a role in a creative field where your design skills are relevant, it’s best to stick to a clean and professional layout. Overly complex or unusual designs can distract from the content and may not be compatible with ATS.
Yes, briefly addressing employment gaps in a positive light can be done in your cover letter if it helps clarify your career narrative. Focus on any constructive activities during that period, like continuing education or volunteer work.
When changing careers, use your cover letter to focus on your transferable skills and passion for the new field. Clearly explain why you are making the change and how your previous experiences will benefit the role you’re applying for.
Storytelling can play a vital role in making your cover letter more engaging. It can help the employer see how your experiences have shaped your work ethic, skills, and fit for the job. Just keep it concise and relevant to the position.
Soft skills such as communication, teamwork, and problem-solving are important to highlight if they are relevant to the job. Giving examples of how you’ve used these skills in the past can help employers see the value you’d bring to their team.
One common mistake is not proofreading your cover letter, leading to typos or grammatical errors. These mistakes can give an impression of lack of attention to detail. Always proofread and, if possible, get someone else to review your cover letter before sending it.
Submit your cover letter in the format requested in the job posting – often as a PDF or Word document. If you’re sending an email, you can include it as an attachment or in the body of the email, depending on the employer’s instructions. Make sure it’s well-formatted in any case.