Most job seekers don’t spend nearly enough time working on their cover letters. They assume that their resume is enough to get them an interview.
But in today’s competitive job market, a great cover letter can be the difference between getting an interview and getting passed over.
Your cover letter is your first impression when you’re applying for a new job, and it should be a good one. It’s also an opportunity to show your personality and demonstrate why you’re a perfect fit for the role.
Writing a cover letter can be a daunting task, but you can do a few simple things to make the process easier. Here are some easy do’s and don’ts that can help you write a great cover letter that will impress employers.
Cover Letter Do’s
You should follow certain cover letter tips to make sure your letter makes the best impression possible. Here is what you need to do when writing a cover letter.
1. Sell Yourself
Like your resume, your cover letter is your chance to brag (professionally) about why they should hire you. Be proud of your skills and accomplishments, and use them to explain why you are the best candidate for the job.
When you sit down to write a cover letter, think about what you can say that will grab the hiring manager’s attention and make them want to learn more about you. What can you say about your skills and experience that will set you apart from the other candidates?
If you can, include specific examples of times when you have excelled in a similar role.
2. Answer the Question: Why Do You Want to Work Here?
You can be more human and personable in your cover letter than in your resume. So be sure to tell the reader why you want the job. This is especially true if you are making a career change or have been out of work for a while.
Briefly explain your situation so that the hiring manager doesn’t have any questions about why you’re applying.
For example, you can say something as simple as: “After 10 years of working in office administration, I am interested in finding new challenges in the marketing industry.”
Read: Why Are You Interested In This Position?
3. Address How You Meet the Needs of the Organization
There’s a reason most job applications require a resume and a cover letter. A cover letter gives you a chance to communicate with the organization and elaborate on your resume. It’s your opportunity to explain how you meet the organization’s needs and why you should be selected for an interview.
When you’re writing a cover letter, it’s important to focus on how you can help the company reach its goals. To do this, you need to do your research.
Find out what the company’s goals are and what their plans are for achieving them. Then, you can craft a cover letter that demonstrates how your skills and experience can help them succeed.
You can also use your cover letter to address some of the other job needs that may be difficult to include on your resume. These are things like having a driver’s license and access to a vehicle or details about your availability, such as when you can start.
4. Personalize Each Letter
Each employer should receive a personalized cover letter, but don’t worry! You can create one or two cover letter templates and tailor these for each job, just like you should be doing for your resume.
People still expect your cover letter to follow the formal letter format that includes the date, your name and contact information, and the company’s contact information.
Be sure to update each cover letter so that it has the correct details and is addressed to the right person. Addressing your cover letter to the wrong person or sending the wrong letter with your resume probably won’t get a second look.
If you can’t find who to address the letter to, it’s better to use something generic like “hiring manager” or “hiring team” than it is to use the wrong name.
5. Keep it Short
Almost everyone will tell you that you have to keep your cover letter to 1-page. In most cases, this is great advice. Limiting yourself to one page helps you avoid repetition and really focus on what’s essential for the hiring manager to know.
But the truth is, your cover letter should be as long as it needs to be.
I have been successful in submitting a 2-page cover letter in the past. In this case, I was applying for a position that was actually two part-time jobs that were combined into one full-time job. The two roles were related but required different skills, so there was no way to address it all with a single-paged cover letter.
Make sure your cover letter is free of spelling and grammatical errors. Use Grammarly (which is free) to catch spelling errors, grammar mistakes, and other language issues that you may overlook. This attention to detail will show the employer that you are taking the time to make sure that your letter is professional and that you are taking the job seriously.
Proofreading your own cover letter can be difficult because you have likely read it so many times that you no longer see the mistakes. Having someone else take a look at it with fresh eyes can be helpful. In addition, they may be able to offer suggestions for improvements or point out information that is missing.
Read: Where Can I Get Resume Help? 14 Free and Affordable Options
7. Get Their Attention Right Away
Almost every cover letter starts in the same boring way: “I am writing to apply for the [position] job at [company].” This does not tell the employer anything about you or why you are qualified for the job.
Instead, use the first paragraph to grab the employer’s attention and make them want to read more.
You can do a few things to make your first paragraph truly stand out:
- Tell them right away why you are qualified for the position. If you have work experience that matches the required qualifications, mention it first.
- Use strong, active language to engage the employer and show that you are enthusiastic about the position.
- Talk about your transferable skills, such as those you gained from previous jobs, volunteering, leadership roles, or your side hustle. Use specific examples to demonstrate how you have used these skills in the past and how they will help you succeed in the position you are applying for.
Starting your cover letter with a strong hook will immediately set you apart from other candidates and demonstrate your dedication and enthusiasm for the role.
Read: How to Include Your Side Hustle on Your Resume
8. Use Action Words
Use strong action words on your cover letter, such as: created, managed, oversaw, and implemented. These words will demonstrate your ability to take charge and get things done. Hiring managers are looking for candidates who can take the initiative and get the job done, so make sure to highlight your relevant experience and skills.
9. Address Employment Gaps or Potential Concerns
Your cover letter is also an opportunity to explain any gaps in your employment history or to address any concerns that the employer might have about your candidacy. For example, if you took a few years off to raise your children, use your cover letter to explain how this has prepared you to return to the workforce and be an even better employee.
10. Be Honest
If you are out of work, don’t try to hide it. Employers may eventually discover the truth, so it’s better to be honest with them from the start.
Explain your situation briefly and focus on the positive – what you have been doing to stay busy and how you are excited to put your skills to use in a new role. Honesty is always the best policy, and employers will appreciate your transparency.
Cover Letter Don’ts
Now that you know what you should be doing on your cover letter let’s talk about some of the things you need to avoid.
1. Don’t Repeat Your Resume
Your cover letter is meant to elaborate on your resume, not repeat it. If your cover letter doesn’t tell us anything more than your resume already does, why are you even bothering to write one?
Hiring managers don’t want to read the same information twice. They want to see how you can add value to their organization, not just a list of your past accomplishments.
Use your cover letter to talk about your skills and experience in a more natural way. Expand on what you want an employer to know about yourself and your application.
2. Don’t Be Negative
If you are applying for a new job, you are either unemployed, underemployed, hate your current job, or are worried that you may be about to lose your job. None of these situations are fun to be in, but you can’t let that show in your cover letter. You have to keep it positive!
You want to show the employer that you are excited about the opportunity and are confident in your ability to do the job.
If you hate your current job, focus on how you are looking for a new challenge and how you believe this job will be a better fit for you. Or, if you are worried you may lose your job, focus on how you are proactive and are already looking for new opportunities.
3. Don’t Discuss Why You Need the Job
Everyone knows that you need a job to make money to support yourself and your family. You don’t need to explain this or the details of your specific situation in your cover letter. Mentioning that you are hoping to buy a new house next year doesn’t matter to an employer.
What does matter to an employer is what you can do for them. They want to know how you will:
- make their company more money
- save them money
- make their company more efficient
- help them to avoid potential problems
In your cover letter, focus on what you can do for the employer, not on what they can do for you.
4. Don’t Make Excuses
Making excuses will only draw more attention to your weaknesses or make you sound like you’ll be difficult to work with.
If you don’t meet 100% of the qualifications they are looking for, that’s okay – just don’t point it out! Let them decide if it’s a deal-breaker or if they are willing to train you in that specific area. They might not even notice!
Additionally, avoid making excuses for any past job experiences or choices that might negatively reflect on you. If you were fired from a job, for example, simply state that the job wasn’t a good fit and move on. Don’t try to justify your actions or make excuses – this will only make you look bad.
5. Don’t Lie Or Exaggerate
When applying for a new job, many people feel the temptation to lie or exaggerate their skills and experience. Although it may seem like a harmless way to make yourself look more qualified, lying on your application can lead to serious consequences.
When an employer is interested in hiring you, they will conduct a background check and call your references. You will likely be immediately disqualified if you’re caught lying on your job application. In some cases, you may even be banned from applying to that company in the future.
Lying on your application can also be a form of fraud, which is a crime in many jurisdictions. Depending on the severity of the lie, you could lose your job, be sued, or even prosecuted for falsifying documents.
Lying or exaggerating about your experience or education can also lead to problems down the road if you are hired for a position based on false information. For example, if you claim you are proficient at using a specific program that you don’t really know much about, you will struggle in your new role. Not being able to do your job will be stressful and raise questions with your employer. Unless you’re a quick learner, you will probably find yourself job searching again within a few months.
So, the next time you’re tempted to fudge the truth on your application, remember the potential consequences. It’s not worth the risk of losing a job (or going to jail) just to make yourself look more qualified. Be honest on your applications, and you’ll be much better off in the long run.
6. Don’t Send a Generic Letter
As mentioned, your cover letter should be unique to each employer and job opportunity. Don’t simply copy and paste the same letter for every job application. A few small tweaks are all you need to make your cover letter specific to each job and increase your chances of getting an interview.
If it’s obvious that you’ve created one cover letter and are using it repeatedly to apply to dozens of jobs, it gives the impression that you don’t really care if you get this job or not – you just want any job. And while that may be true, you don’t want to create any apprehension with an employer.
7. Don’t Use Clichés or Slang Terms
Avoid using clichés, slang, and overly casual language when writing a cover letter. Such language can come across as unprofessional and may not convey the message you are trying to get across in the best way possible.
Clichés include phrases like “I’m a people person” or “I’m a go-getter.” These phrases are overused and do not add anything unique to your letter.
Using slang can give the impression that you are not taking the process seriously. It can also make it difficult for the reader to understand what you are trying to say.
Instead, focus on using clear and concise language, which will get your point across in a way that is both professional and respectful.
While it is important to be friendly and personable in your letter, being too casual can make you seem unprofessional and could hurt your chances of getting the job.
8. Don’t Include Unnecessary Personal Information
There are a few reasons why you should not include personal information in your cover letter.
First, it is not necessary. The employer is only interested in your qualifications and not your personal life.
Second, while it may seem like a good idea to include personal information in your cover letter to make yourself seem more relatable, it can actually have the opposite effect. Including personal information can make you appear unprofessional.
Third, including personal information on your cover letter can be a privacy concern. If an employer knows too much about your personal life, they could potentially use this information against you. For example, if you mention that you have young children, the employer may assume that you will need to take time off for childcare. As a result, you may be passed over in favor of a candidate without the same responsibilities.
Lastly, sharing personal information in your cover letter could also lead to identity theft. If you include your home address or phone number, a savvy thief could use this information to steal your identity. By including personal information in your cover letter, you could be putting yourself at risk.
Overall, you should always err on the side of caution to protect your privacy and avoid including personal information in your cover letter. Stick to the facts and let your qualifications speak for themselves.
Final Thoughts on Cover Letters
It can be difficult to strike the right tone in a cover letter. You want to sound enthusiastic and professional without coming across as desperate or pushy. Remember, the goal is to show that you’re a good fit for the company.
If you’re not sure how to get started, plenty of cover letter examples are available online. Just make sure to tailor the letter to the specific company and position you’re applying for, and only include the skills and experience that you actually have.
With these tips in mind, you should have no problem creating a cover letter that will stand out and help you get hired.
More Resume & Cover Letter Articles:
- Quick Resume Tips: 20 Do’s and Don’ts Successful Job Seekers Follow
- Your Resume Only Has 6 Seconds to Make It Into the “Yes” Pile (Free Resume Checklist)
Amanda Kay, an Employment Specialist and founder of My Life, I Guess, strives to keep the "person" in personal finance by writing about money, mistakes, and making a living. She focuses on what it’s like being in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, and surviving unemployment while also offering advice and support for others in similar situations - including a FREE library of career & job search resources.