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7 Must-Know Tips for Writing a Killer Cover Letter

A great cover letter can make your resume stand out among a sea of other candidates, but writing one can be daunting. These seven tips can make it easier!

Many jobseekers find writing a cover letter to be a daunting process. If applying for a job were as simple as sending off the same résumé time after time, you’d be able to cover a lot more ground at a much quicker pace. But the cover letter requires you to present a much more tailored, in-depth look at what makes you the perfect candidate. Fortunately, these seven tips will help guide you through the process and make writing cover letters that much easier.

1. Stick to traditional formatting

While the contents of your cover letter can be as customized and unique as you’d like, most businesses expect cover letters to follow the same format. If you haven’t written one before, or want a little extra guidance, search for a sample cover letter format page online. Doing so will provide you with a clear-cut idea of how your cover letter should be organized and what information it should include. The traditional format is tried and true, and there’s no need to stray from it. Hiring managers expect a cover letter to be easy to read and to have distinct sections including the greeting, the opening statement, the body copy, and the closing statement. Deviating from this standard format could hurt the impression your letter makes.

2. Have a personalized greeting

Using a generic greeting doesn’t help you stand out from the pack, so it’s essential that you use a personalized greeting whenever possible. A standard greeting, such as “Dear hiring manager,” is fine if you’ve exhausted all other efforts to locate the identity of the hiring manager for your position. However, if you go the extra mile with your research, the person reading applications will certainly take note. Address them with “Ms.” or “Mr.” if the company is conservative or corporate. If the potential employer is a start-up or small business, feel free to use the recipient’s first name.

Related: 6 Things to Omit From Your First Cover Letter

3. Keep your introduction short

The opening paragraph of your cover letter should be short and straightforward. The introduction is where you briefly explain what makes you the perfect candidate and hook the reader. The trick is to do so without going into too much detail—there's room for more explanation later in the cover letter. In the first two or three sentences, explain what excites you about the position and why you are a good candidate.

4. Tell them what you can do for the company

A cover letter should outline your qualifications and paint a picture of what you’ll bring to the table if you’re hired. You want to concentrate on expanding upon your experience to show why you’re the obvious choice for the role. Lay out the reasons why the working relationship will prove to be mutually beneficial. Let them know that you’re serious about having a long-term career at the company. Tell them what excites you and what makes you passionate about the job description. For example, if the company is an eco-conscious nonprofit, tell them how your values and commitment to green living aligns with their mission statement.

Related: Top 10 Mistakes New Grads Make When Seeking a Job

5. Research the company culture

Before you start writing your cover letter, consider the culture of the organization to which you’re applying. When you demonstrate that you understand the company culture, you’re better positioned to explain why you’d fit in. To help you understand the company culture, start by taking a look at the company website. What type of language do they use, and how does this relate to the company personality? Do team bios list professional qualifications or tell fun facts? These little elements provide insight into what the business is looking for and will help you match the tone of your letter to the company’s voice. While your cover letter should always have a professional tone, when applying for roles at a start-up or ad agency, for example, you can likely write a slightly less formal cover letter than if you are applying for a role in a conservative environment like a law firm or financial institution. 

6. Don’t regurgitate your résumé

A great cover letter doesn’t just repeat what’s on your résumé. To be effective, it should expand upon the experience and skills you’ve outlined in your résumé, describe in detail specific projects and initiatives you're proud of, and give a hint of your personality. For example, if you were previously the Marketing Coordinator at a technology start-up, rather than repeat that fact in your cover letter, write about your experience collaborating with the design team to come up with a higher-converting website instead. Detail the results of your labor by using numbers and statistics. Perhaps thanks to your efforts, the company’s newsletter subscriber count increased, or maybe 32% more visitors requested product demos. This result-driven description of your tasks, coupled with your solid writing and proofreading, will go a long way for a recruiter. 

7. Use a cover letter builder

If you aren’t confident in your writing abilities, writing a cover letter can feel daunting even when you’ve studied the basic tips and tricks. Using an online cover letter builder, which will help not only with the layout of your letter but with phrasing and editing, can be a great help in adding in the most valuable information and eliminating unnecessary content. Just pick a template and fill in your information, and the hard part is over—until the job interview.

Related: Writing a Cover Letter With Little to No Work Experience

Including a cover letter is usually a must when you're applying to jobs, even if they say it isn't required. Writing one that makes you stand out can be tricky, but by following these steps, you'll be well on your way into the short pile—then you can start preparing for the other fun parts of the job search process like interviews and salary negotiations. Best of luck! 

Looking for more great advice on finding and landing a job? Check out our Internships and Careers playlist on the CollegeXpress YouTube channel. 

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