How to write a cover letter: 7 easy tips for success
Landing the perfect job is no easy feat. Not only are you constantly out there making connections and searching for openings, but each position you apply for requires a relevant resume and, perhaps the most daunting of all, a cover letter.
Cover letters are the opening statement you make to a prospective employer, a chance to sell your skills and express your passion and unique qualifications. With a little extra planning, you can make the writing process relatively painless, and create a letter that sets you apart.
1. Do your research
Potential employers want to know that you’re familiar with their company — you didn’t just pick the job opening out of a hat, after all — and that you can demonstrate your knowledge. Maybe you admire the organization’s commitment to the environment, or their involvement with the local community. Does your future employer develop an app? Download it. Do they create marketing campaigns for clients? Make sure you’ve seen their portfolio. Drop a few specific details into your cover letter that show you’ve done your homework.
2. Find a direct contact
Avoid using the term “to whom it may concern” in your opening salutation whenever possible. Try to find out the name of the hiring manager or department head for the position you’re applying to, even if it means contacting the office and asking. This allows you to tailor your letter to the individual, as well as to the company.
Any connection you have to the organization where you’re applying can help ensure your application is thoroughly considered. With that in mind, try to set up an informational interview with someone at the workplace in question before you submit a formal application. Not only does it give you a stronger idea of what it might be like to work there, introducing yourself beforehand demonstrates your commitment to the position and gives you a name to reference in your letter.
3. Keep your audience in mind
Make sure the language you use, and skills you highlight, are appropriate to the place you’re applying. Does your prospective employer value creative, out-of-the-box thinking? Specialized job skills? Demonstrated passion for their industry or mission? Ideally, they’ll be looking for a candidate with some of each, but pay attention to which qualities your hopefully-future-employer emphasizes to the public. Knowing what they value will help you know which parts of your experience to call attention to in your letter.
4. Ask “why me?”
Once you’ve done your research, the last step before you start writing is to ask yourself why you’re the right person for this position. What skills, experience, knowledge or passion do you have that sets you apart from other applicants? Look at the job description, consider the requirements and make a list of how you meet them. Think of evidence you have that supports each of those skills.
5. Start with a lead
All memorable writing starts with a statement that catches your audience’s attention. Use your connections and research to share what about the organization interests you, and why you want to work there. Make it personal, and get creative! For example, instead of saying, “I’m interested in applying for your marketing rep position,” try, “I’ve been interested in helping great products find their audience since preschool, when I created my very own TV ads in my backyard.”
6. Explain what you can offer
An effective cover letter should explain why you’re interested in or passionate about a position, but more importantly it should explain what you can offer your prospective employer. Make statements that succinctly describe how you will meet the needs of the position and what skills you’re bringing to the table.
Structure your letter like a persuasive essay. Use a topic sentence to address one of the items on the list of skills you’ve made. Then, use the next one or two sentences to provide proof that demonstrates your abilities. Also, consider how you describe your skills. Terms like “contribute,” “give back to” or “collaborate” suggest your focus is on the organization’s success and advancement, not just your own.
7. Add a brief conclusion and call to action
Now that you’ve gotten the employer’s attention and convinced them of your qualifications, it’s time to ask your reader to reach out to you. Direct to your resume for further details, and provide contact options. Make sure you’re compelling and inviting, but not demanding. For example: “I would love the opportunity to discuss your needs and my qualifications in person or over the phone. Please contact me at xxx-xxx-xxx to set up an interview.”
Bonus: Filling in the blanks
Concerned you don’t clearly meet the qualifications of a job description? Returning to work after going back to school full time, or attempting to switch career fields? Instead of hiding these facts, address them up front. Showcase your transferable technical skills, present your most impressive past work experience, and mention how your education has prepared, or is preparing, you for the job you’re applying for.