10 Tips for Cover Letters
Cover letters remain popular in today’s job climate, and I am constantly bombarded with questions about what their purpose is and how to draft one properly. While plenty of people think that the resume is the selling point of a job application, a cover letter can have a strong impact on how a prospective employer feels about you as a candidate. That is why I’ve written some tips for cover letters that you can use today to make yourself stand out.
You don’t have to have the best resume in the world to get a good job. In fact, if you can express in your cover letter how much you want the job, how willing you are to work hard, and how dedicated you are to excellence given your previous history in the professional world, it might mean the difference between the rejected pile to the accepted pile.
Here are some things to keep in mind when drafting one:
1. Understand the purpose of a cover letter.
The purpose of a cover letter, for you, is to seduce an employer into hiring you. That means it is the first impression an employer will get of you. You are selling yourself as a product, to put it simply. Your cover letter should show how much value you can bring to the workplace and briefly describe your qualifications and talents.
2. One Page is best. Brevity is key.
One thing you don’t want to do is go overboard on your cover letter. It is a steadfast rule that cover letters should be no more than one page. If you feel it should be longer, I’m reassuring you now, there’s no reason for it to be. Your potential employer doesn’t need to know your life story or your whole career trajectory in your cover letter. Don’t try to repeat all of the information on your resume either. Keep everything simple, but don’t make it so simple that your cover letter is no more than a paragraph taking up one fourth of a page.
3. Make sure your contact information is visible on the page.
Your contact information should be on the top of your cover letter, much like it would appear on your resume. You want to make sure that the employer, if interested, has no trouble contacting you. Include your name, address, e-mail address, and cell phone number.
4. Use 12-point Times New Roman font.
A cover letter is not the type of document you want to experiment with fonts on. If you’re tempted to use Comic Sans as your cover letter font, I regret to inform you that it’s not a good idea. Keep everything standard and professional, in a regular 12-point Times New Roman font. The idea is to make your writing easy to read and not cause any strain on behalf of your potential interviewer due to an unkempt or hard-to-read cover letter.
5. Tailor your cover letter for the position you want.
I’ve known a few people who used the same cover letter constantly. They’d change the company name and the title of the person they were writing to, but the content of their letters was never related to specific job postings. This is a really bad idea. What you want to do is have a printout or PDF version of each job posting you’re interested in. You should sculpt your cover letters according to each job to mirror the qualities, qualifications, and attributes your potential employer is seeking. Remember, the idea is to sell yourself as the ideal candidate. Believe me, professionals can tell if you’re using a generic cover letter or if you’ve put time into it.
6. Address your cover letter to the person you know will be reading it.
If you’re not certain who will be reading your resume, it is still okay to write “To Whom It May Concern,” but if you are replying to a job posting that asks you to send materials to a specific person, address your cover letter to them. It shows you care, that you read the listing, that you’re serious about the opportunity, and can follow directions. Show them how much you want the job through your writing.
7. Hit the main points of the job posting and your resume to effectively promote yourself.
Your cover letter can save you from a subpar resume if you write strategically. Always think about things from the perspective of the employer. Ask yourself questions like: What can I say that relates to the job posting? How can I effectively communicate my value? How can I indicate to them the strengths I can bring to the company? Think about what an employer wants to hear and take into account who they say they are looking for, then address those points in the cover letter.
8. Have a strong ending and mind your appearance.
When concluding your cover letter, it’s very important to give thanks to the reader of the letter. If mailing in your cover letter, signing it with your signature and printing it on 100% watermarked cotton paper adds a nice touch. How you present yourself on paper is just as important as how you present yourself in person, especially if your paper representation is all an employer gets to see.
9. Proofread. After that, proofread again.
Before printing or mailing anything out, proofread everything you’ve written. Then, ask a friend to look over the document for you. After that, check your document again. Seriously, you can never be too careful. A small typo can ruin your chances of making a good impression if it is caught by the employer you’re working so hard to impress. There is an expectation that both your cover letter and resume will look perfect, so be sure to give the document extra care before mailing or e-mailing it.
10. When all else fails, consult a professional.
If something is throwing you off or you aren’t sure how to word something in your cover letter, speaking with a professional resume writer or a career coach might be a good idea. Usually, there will be a few available at your university in the Career Services office, but you can also hire a private professional. They might be able to give you insight on your cover letter or provide valuable tips you had not considered before.
A study done by a job-matching service, TheLadders, sought to investigate how long, on average, an employer looks at a resume before deciding whether a candidate is or is not worth more of their time. The number, reported on Time.com, is six seconds. When mere seconds count, a strong cover letter may buy you a few more. Go get them.