Cover letters can be the most difficult part of job-hunting for some. There are many questions about cover letters which are often unclear:
What should my cover letter be about?
What should I write in the introduction?
Who do I address it to?
Does this make me sound too pompous?
Because formatting and rules for cover letters can be so varied, they can be confusing to put together.
Here we will talk about some of the best things to do while writing a cover letter, and some of the worst.
Cover Letter Do’s – Keep these in mind!
- Make a new cover letter for each job you apply to
- Format your cover letter like a business e-mail
- Include your contact information
- Address the cover letter to a person when possible
- Include the position you are applying for in the introduction
- Keep sentences short and to the point
- Proofread again… and again… and again!
- Match your cover letter to your resume
- Tell the company how you can be an asset
- Compliment the company
Now let’s break these down further in order to get a full understanding of the best ways to help your cover letter stand out among the crowd.
The Do’s of writing a cover letter
Make a new cover letter for each job you apply to
Cover letters are intended to be specific messages to the company which you are applying for.
While you could re-use some parts of a cover letter, most of it will always need to be re-written.
What job are you applying for?
Why do you want to work at this specific company?
How can you fit in and be useful as an employee there?
These are questions that cannot be answered with a catch-all cover letter. Re-write your cover letter each time you apply to a new location.
The time it takes to write a few paragraphs will be well worth it when the employer sees the extra effort.
If you do choose to re-use parts of your “base” cover letter, make sure you do not accidentally copy and paste a part containing a company/person’s name into the new one!
This comes off as very disrespectful and will be an instant disqualification of your resume.
Format your cover letter like a business e-mail
The format for cover letters is very different from that of a resume.
Cover letters should read and look like business e-mails.
This includes having a salutation, personalized content written in full sentences, and a proper complimentary close.
Essentially, the structure of a cover letter should be:
- Dear x,
- [2-3 body paragraphs personalized for the hiring manager]
- Kind regards / Best regards / Sincerely, [your name]
Responding to a job posting through e-mail is a bit different than submitting an application in-person, so make sure you know the nuances.
Include your contact information
This one is a given, but it is vital to the structure of a proper cover letter. Typically in the header, always write your name, address, phone number, and e-mail address.
Repeat this information again in your resume.
Giving an employer easy access to your contact information ups the chances of them wanting to call you, so make sure it is clear and correct!
Address the cover letter to a person when possible
It is very important to try and find out the name of the hiring manager and to include their information on a cover letter.
Cover letters and formal letters should always be started in a professional way with a salutation such as “Dear”.
In addition, they should be addressed to someone specifically whenever this information is available.
Start with the hiring manager’s name, job title, company, and company address.
This information is typically listed below your header, and above the introduction of a cover letter. This is followed by the salutation.
This section will typically be formatted as follows:
Human Resources Manager
567 Lincoln Ave, Manchester NY 12345
Dear John Smith,
If you do not have the name available information, you may list the contact name as “Hiring Manager” using capitalization, because you are using a proper title in place of a name.
Include the position you are applying for in the introduction
A hiring manager is likely dealing with multiple open vacancies at a time.
In your cover letter’s introduction paragraph, be sure to specify which position you are applying for.
It is also recommended that you include where you discovered the opening.
An example of an introduction would be as follows:
I am writing to express my interest in the human resources position listed on indeed.com. With over 5 years experience in the human resources field and 8 years in management, I am certain that I would be an asset to the team.
Keep sentences short and to the point
Cover letters should detail your goals, your proficiencies, and why you are a good fit for the company.
Avoid run-on sentences and over-explaining things, as this makes cover letters less impressive. The language used in a cover letter should be direct, yet friendly.
Proofread again… and again… and again!
A cover letter is an employer’s first impression of a potential employee. Do not ruin this impression with a careless typo!
Always take a short break after writing a cover letter and come back to it with fresh eyes.
Having a friend or family member read it over is also recommended, as they can spot odd grammar or confusing sentences that you may not see yourself.
Match your cover letter to your resume
Because cover letters and resumes are handed in as a pair, it is an excellent idea to match them.
Try to include the same type of header or similar fonts to turn them into a cohesive unit. Not only does this look better visually, it also shows the employer that you put in extra effort.
Tell the company how you can be an asset
The purpose of a resume is to talk about your past and your previous experience. The purpose of a cover letter is to talk about the future!
After detailing your goals, you should be writing specifically about how you can be an asset to the company. You want them to see their future with you included!
Your resume may already say that you have Spanish language experience, so the cover letter should tell the company why this is important.
“I have used Spanish in a professional setting for over 6 years, which will help me to best assist customers of xx company from multiple parts of the world.”
It is also important to match the needs of the job ad in your cover letter. If a job ad states the company is looking for programming expertise, do not simply write that you have the experience.
Instead, tell them how your expertise in C++ and Visual Basic will help you be a multi-faceted employee for their company.
Compliment the company
Everyone loves to hear nice things about themselves, and this is also true for companies. Include compliments in a subtle and professional way, such as in the following examples:
I want to be a part of a cutting-edge company in the tech industry
I wish to work for a company that values sustainability and green-energy
I value xyz company’s dedication to supporting endangered species
With sentences like these, you accomplish three things:
- Complimenting the company on their proficiencies or values
- Outlining your goals
- Telling a company what you value about the job
This brings us to our “Don’ts” section. An improperly written cover letter can do more harm than good, so be sure not to commit any of these common mistakes when writing one.
Cover Letter Don’ts – Avoid these pitfalls
- Go over one page in length
- Use “To whom it may concern” as your salutation
- Include irrelevant details
- Repeat your resume word for word
- Try to solve a company’s problems
- Get too personal
- Use section headers or different fonts
- Include negative phrases
- Write “You’ll find my resume enclosed”
- Use an improper complimentary close
With these points in mind, let’s go over some of the most critical cover letter mistakes in further detail.
The Don’ts of writing a cover letter
Go over one page in length
This is very important because there is no exception to this rule. Cover letters should never be longer than one page!
The point of a cover letter is to explain what position you are seeking, briefly outlines your relevant skills, and to tell an employer why you are the right fit for the job.
If it goes over one page, you are likely summarizing your resume. Always keep the cover letter brief and know that you do not have to fit in every little detail.
The employer will still read your resume, so only use the cover letter to expand on the most relevant points.
Use “To whom it may concern” as your salutation
If you cannot find the name of the hiring manager of a company, do not use a salutation such as “to whom it may concern”.
This is an outdated phrase which sounds impersonal and unprofessional.
Even if you do not have a name, you should certainly be addressing a professional by a proper title! Try using “Hiring Manager” if the identity is unknown, like in the following example:
123 5th Avenue, Brooklyn NY 11201
Dear Hiring Manager,
Do not worry about the title sounding redundant. You would write the person’s name twice if you had that information, so it is sensible to do the same with their title.
Be sure to also capitalize both words, as is proper for professional titles.
Include irrelevant details
Cover letters should include details such as why you want the job, or possibly how you discovered it, but make sure you do not get too far off-track.
Including details such as “I really want to leave my old job” or “You have a great employee discount!” do not make you sound any better as a potential employee.
These reasons also do not come off as “long-term”.
Someone whose reason is that they have had a passion for something since they were young will be valued because they are likely to stay in that business for a long period of time.
Someone only applying for the employee discount does not sound like they will stay long-term, costing the company money to replace them later on.
Repeat your resume word for word
Cover letters and resumes are two different documents for a reason. You are given some amount of freedom in a cover letter to explain in full sentences why you are the perfect fit for a company, so don’t waste this opportunity.
Employers want to know why you are applying to a position, and why they should hire you. Format your cover letter to answer these two questions and leave the gritty details to the resume.
Try to solve a company’s problems
Of course, a good cover letter should make an employer think that you can solve their problems. Stating this outright can come off as insulting, however, so be careful how you phrase things. For example, writing:
“Your ad specified experience with web-design. I can make your website user-friendly.” insinuates that their website is bad, and this can put a hiring manager on the defensive. Instead, consider writing:
“Your ad specified experience with web-design. I have over 5 years of experience, with many projects geared towards increasing the user-friendliness of websites for older age-demographics.”
In this example, you have hinted at a way you may be able to improve their company without insinuating they are lacking without you. Now you have their interest, and they have not even read your resume yet!
Get too personal
While a cover letter is supposed to imitate a letter-format, you must be careful of getting overly personal with it. When explaining why you are applying for said position, there are a few reasons you should leave out.
Do not tell a hiring manager it is because you lost your previous job, or that you are getting married and need money for the wedding, etc.
They are looking for professional reasons that you want to work there, such as dreams or ambitions that will hopefully allow you to work there long-term.
Professionalism also applies to the language that you use. Write all sentences formally and without use of slang, abbreviations, or casual expressions such as “thanks”.
This is true even if you are already acquainted with the hiring management.
Use section titles or different fonts
Unlike on a resume, cover letters do not use section titles such as “education” or “experience”. The entire cover letter should be written in paragraph format, using the same size and type of font.
The only exception is the header where you list your name, address, and contact information. These may be larger and in a different font as the rest, but try to pair it well with the body text.
Include negative phrases
This can be a hard habit to break, but it is very important not to do this on a cover letter. Do not write things such as
“Although I lack experience, I can assure you that…”
“I am not proficient in Excel, but I am a fast learner and am very eager to…”
The hiring manager may not have even been thinking that you were inexperienced, but now they certainly are. Present yourself in the best light possible while being honest about the things you include.
The employer will decide if your experience does not suit their needs, and they will mention this in the interview if they are worried. Don’t put yourself down before you’ve started!
Write “You’ll find my resume enclosed”
This is a pet-peeve of many employers because it is unnecessary. A cover letter is always, 100% of the time accompanied by a resume.
There is no need to waste space on a cover letter detailing this point.
It also makes the closing paragraph less effective because it is not a powerful closing sentence.
If you are including the cover letter as an attachment in an e-mail, you may let an employer know by using the phrase “Encl” or “Enc”.
Use an improper complimentary close
A complimentary close is the final words written on a letter or e-mail just above your name. Professional complimentary closes include the following:
- Kind regards
- Best regards
- Thank you
Do not use overly casual complimentary closes on a cover letter, or a business e-mail which your cover letter is attached to. Examples of improper complimentary closes are:
- Many Thanks (though this one is sometimes used if previously acquainted)
- (not including a complimentary close)
Complimentary closes are written at the very end, so be sure not to leave a bad impression after an otherwise impressive cover letter!
Hey fellow Linguaholics! It’s me, Marcel. I am the proud owner of linguaholic.com. Languages have always been my passion and I have studied Linguistics, Computational Linguistics and Sinology at the University of Zurich. It is my utmost pleasure to share with all of you guys what I know about languages and linguistics in general.