The dreaded cover letter might seem like an antiquated formality, but 87% percent of hiring professionals say they do read cover letters, according to a survey by ResumeGo. To increase your chances of getting hired, your cover letter should include the following items.
A cover letter should be roughly 400 words long, or three to four paragraphs, with a font size between 10-12. Keep it concise, too—a cover letter should never be longer than one page. ResumeGenius has some good examples of what your cover letter should look like here.
Typically, the first paragraph will explain why you’re applying for the job, the second paragraph highlights your accomplishments, and the following paragraphs convey how your experience aligns with the prospective employer’s goals or requirements. The concluding paragraph should thank the employer for their time and consideration.
You literally have a few seconds to get a hiring manager’s attention. Your writing has to be succinct and laser-focused on what the employer is looking for in a potential new hire—lead by conveying enthusiasm for the job, highlighting a referral (if you have one), or by listing an impressive accomplishment that relates to the job you’re applying for. The Balance has some good examples of opening sentences here.
A note of caution, however: don’t waste too many words describing enthusiasm for the job in your introduction. Your interest in the job is kind of obvious (why else would you be applying?) and it won’t differentiate you from other candidates. Remember, the employer is interested in your job experience and skills most of all, so you’ll want to get to that part quickly.
The key word here is relevant. Carefully read (or re-read) the job posting to understand exactly what the employer is looking for, and use that as your guide for what to write when describing your work experience. You’ll want to mirror the language of the job posting, especially if it lists skills. As an example, if the posting mentions Salesforce a few times and you have experience on the platform, you’ll want to highlight that as part of your skills.
You’ll also want to highlight any accomplishments, ideally as a short story that shows professional growth, with a beginning, middle, and end. As an example, let’s say you worked in customer service: Show how you met all your performance metrics, routinely solved problems, and got promoted to team lead.
Discussing the company’s values in your cover letter might be the easiest way to differentiate yourself from other candidates, yet so few people do it. Why? Because it’s not easy to know what to write, and it’s a lot of work when you’re applying for multiple jobs a day (with no guarantees that it will lead to an interview). Hiring managers don’t want to read boilerplate cover letters—they want to hire someone who “gets it” and is enthusiastic to work for their company. Google the company and check their website for anything describing a “mission statement” or “company values.” It’s also to your advantage to know those values, as you don’t want to join a company that’s a bad culture fit.
The right tone for a cover letters is professional, friendly, and enthusiastic, with no words wasted—you don’t want to overstay your welcome. If you struggle with tone, try reading your letter out loud: Does it sound like a normal person you’d want to speak with? If not, your writing might suffer from a lack of sincerity, which can be the result of relying on too many cliches. (Clichés, of course, are worn out phrases that tend to put people asleep.)
Challenge yourself to avoid deadwood phrases like “I’m a Fast Learner” or “I think outside the box,” as the hiring manager will have read them thousands of times already. The site TopResume has some other good examples of clichés you’ll want to weed out.
Always, always, always proofread your cover letter. Remember that hiring managers are looking for a reason to dismiss your application, and the smallest typo on your cover letter can sink you chances.