The process of finding new job opportunities has changed, and it’s
easy to wonder if cover letters are still relevant. The simple answer
is yes. Unless a potential employer has asked you not to include a
cover letter, the serious candidate (that’s you) will always do so.
Some job seekers treat cover letters like a formality that doesn’t
have much of an impact. This is a costly mistake. Hiring managers do
read them, and they do matter. Here are five steps to make your cover
letter work harder for you.
STEP 1: UNDERSTAND THE PURPOSE AND STRUCTURE OF A
The first step toward writing your best cover letter is to know
why you’re writing it. The purpose of a cover letter is to
capture the interest of hiring managers, inspire them to read your
resume, and ultimately make them want to call you for an interview. In
terms of structure, every cover letter you write should:
Establish your interest in that
particular job opening.
Demonstrate your knowledge of that
Draw clear connections between
what you have and what the company needs.
Beyond that, there is no concrete formula. Unlike a resume, the
cover letter should reveal a bit of your personality.
STEP 3: STRIKE THE RIGHT TONE.
Don’t be robotic or bland. Nothing makes hiring
managers sleepier than sentences like, “I wish to express my sincere
interest in the current job opening at your respected
establishment.” Your objective is to capture the hiring manager’s
interest, not to blend in with predictable words and sentences.
Don’t be over the top. Enthusiasm is one of the
keys to a good cover letter, but too much enthusiasm sounds shallow
and redundant (e.g., “I am unbelievably thrilled to be applying for
such an incredibly amazing opportunity.”).
Use conversational words. Writing a cover letter is
not like playing a game of Scrabble where bigger words earn more
points. When in doubt, use a simpler and shorter word. This will
almost always improve the quality and flow of your cover
Study the company. Read its website,
advertisements, and press releases. When you have a feel for how the
company itself communicates, you can find ways to strike a
STEP 4: KEEP IT RELEVANT.
Pay attention to the word count. Unless a job
posting asks for cover letters of a specific length, aim for 250-400
words. That’s about half a page or four paragraphs. Your ability to
say what needs to be said in this amount of space – and to do it
effectively – will be appreciated by hiring managers. Your resume,
and hopefully your interview, will give you a chance to say
Focus on experiences and responsibilities instead of
credentials. You have every reason to be proud of your
academic achievements, but this factual information is on your
resume. When reading your cover letter, hiring managers are more
interested in the difference you’ve made, the drive you feel, and
the value you can deliver.
Stress your value to the company, not the other way
around. Draw bold connections between your professional
skill set and the demands of the open position. Send a clear message
that you can and will deliver where it counts.
Show genuine interest in the organization. If you
study newsletters and press releases, you should be able to include
one or two well-placed comments that let hiring managers know you’ve
done your homework.
Customize each cover letter
. It bears repeating that each time you sit down to write a
cover letter, you should place 100% of your focus on that particular
opportunity. Hiring managers receive plenty of generic cover
letters, and the difference is easy to spot.
Play to your strengths. If there are gaps in your
skills and experience, don’t draw attention to them. Your resume
will provide the necessary facts, but your cover letter should send
a positive message about your ability to exceed expectations.
Leave out personal details. This includes travel
experiences, small talk, and other irrelevant information.
STEP 5: WRITE A MEMORABLE CONCLUSION.
You’ve put a lot of effort into writing a great cover letter, so
don’t end with a whimper. “I greatly look forward to hearing from you
in due course,” is a forgettable closure. Instead, reiterate your
passion for what the company is doing and where it’s going. Reinforce
the idea that you share the same vision and that you have a unique
ability to meet the company’s needs.
When you finish a cover letter, read it from beginning to end.
Look for ways to improve the flow and enhance the message. Repeat this
process. The energy you put in will be worth it. The average
professional will write many cover letters over the course of their
career, and it’s a skill that evolves over time. Build on what you’ve
learned from previous efforts, but try to keep a fresh perspective.
When you know how to write a great cover letter, your next job
interview is never far off.
Find out how Strayer University’s degree programs can give you the skills needed to stand out in a crowded job market.