Applying for a job, but struggling with writing a cover letter? You’re not alone. To help you with this annoying (but necessary) part of applying for a job, we recently put out this query:
What is your #1 tip for writing a cover letter that will make an employer want to interview you? Looking to hear from HR professionals who have read a lot of cover letters, as well as people who have had success with a particular type of cover letter. Unusual ideas particularly welcome.
What follows are the comments we got back, which contain some great advice from hiring managers and people with significant experience in writing cover letters (if you have your own suggestions on what makes a great cover letter beyond what’s already been suggested, you can also make a contribution here). Here’s how I’d summarize the tips people have contributed so far:
- Compliment the hiring manager in some way, and refer to them by name
- Use the same language as the company
- Tell an engaging story, and be creative in your writing
- Include keywords from the job listing
- Be creative with your format
- Add a compelling P.S. at the end
- Consider sending an application video, if possible
- Quantify your accomplishments with specific examples
- Talk about projects and entrepreneurial activities
Have a read through the comments below in their entirety, and you should find some actionable advice that will definitely help you write a better cover letter.
My number one piece of advice when it comes to cover letters is to use the first sentence or two to compliment the hiring manager or company in a unique way. What’s something that’s stood out to you about who they are or what they do? Include that, concisely, in the first one or two sentences. Doing so will quickly shift the reviewer’s perspective, making it about them rather than you.
--Kelli Anderson, Mindset Mamas
The only time you can get slightly personal during a job induction is when sending in your cover letter. Address it directly to the hiring manager to give them a sense of belonging in the company. When reading the letter, they will be content to see the effort you make to gather as much information about the company as possible. Impress them with your willingness to be a part of the team. If you are unaware of the manager's name, you can always call up the company or search it up online – the company website usually has all the details you need.
--Bilawal Gul, Web Copywriter
Use the same language as the company. One time, an employer I interviewed with revealed to me that they had received over one hundred applications for a single position. When employers receive that many applications, they don’t have time to spend more than a few minutes on each one. Spend some time figuring out how the company talks about itself, what language they use, and incorporate this into your letter. Not only does this convey that you have done your research, but it also shows that you understand the culture of the organization that you’re applying to.
--Nicole Garcia, Most Craft
Tell an engaging story - A resume can be thought of as an outline. A cover letter on the other hand is the meat on the bones that flesh out your application. Don’t fall prey to the temptation of just describing your bullet points. Be specific and expand upon your most relevant accomplishments. This cannot be stressed enough. Whether it is direct experience in the same industry or a transferable skill it is up to you to make it crystal clear why you’re an excellent fit for the given role.
Find the balance between humility and braggadocio - Here is your chance to find the golden mean of coming of confident and assertive, without being arrogant. It’s a fine line and its certainly tempting to fall into either extreme. Sell yourself, highlight your accomplishments but don’t overdo it as nothing is a bigger turn off for recruiter than inauthentic sugarcoating.
--Jagoda Wieczorek, ResumeLab
The worst thing you can do when applying for a new job is to include a generic cover letter. It will drastically reduce your chances of getting picked by the recruiter.
Hence, it is extremely crucial to tailor your cover letter for every position you apply. The best way is to read the job description thoroughly, look at the company’s mission statement and core values. Based on all the information you gather, match your skills, experience, and qualifications to the job.
1. List two/three skills, abilities, or experiences that the job requires that you know you possess.
2. In your letter, provide relevant examples of times that you demonstrated each of those skills. It is important not to skip this step as it supports the claims you will make in your cover letter.
3. Make sure to include the keywords from the job listing in your cover letter as well. For example, if the job requirement says the ideal candidate must have experience with “ writing HARO pitches,” you might include an example where you answered a HARO query and it got published in an article later on.
Take your time to showcase your personality and explain how you would be an ideal candidate for the position. A well-tailored letter will help the recruiter to see, at a glance, that you are a good match for the job.
I have personally used this strategy and witnessed a greater success rate because recruiters are receptive to cover letters that are well-tailored instead of an old copy-pasted generic template.
--Ahmed Ali, drinkheartwater.com
As a business owner, I've seen my fair share of cover letters, and I must say: it's really rare that one grabs my attention. What I want to see in a cover letter is how my business is going to benefit from your services.
I want results. When I'm looking to hire someone, I need to believe that person has the chops even before I see talents in action. If you can convince me in your cover letter that you know and understand the services my business provides and how you can contribute and/or improve them, your foot's halfway in the door.
Be creative with your format. I've been pleasantly surprised and impressed with a cover letter format or two that provided a break in the monotony of bland, regurgitated filler content. The most intriguing cover letters I've encountered piqued my interest with bullet points, tables, and images. These items break up the text and draw attention to the most important information in the cover letter that you'd like your potential employer to see. This is critical, especially since business owners and/or hiring managers are quite busy and tend to skim documents to find stand-out information.
Be specific and elaborate on your achievements. A cover letter expressly reveals if the applicant can effectively communicate. Reiterating every bullet point in your resume won't help; discuss specific achievements that are relatable and relevant to the position you're applying for.
--Elliott Reimers, Rave Reviews
My number one tip for writing an effective cover letter is to address it to the proper point of contact. If the job listing includes the name of the hiring manager, please address the cover letter to that specific contact. Try to avoid writing 'Dear Whomever It May Concern' as your opening greeting.. If you are unsure as to who to address the cover letter to, look at the email address provided for submission. More often than not, the address contains the name of the hiring manager — first initial and last name. This should be relatively easy to look up through LinkedIn, find the interviewer, and address this individual directly in your cover letter.
--Dana Case, MyCorporation
My number 1 tip is don't be afraid to be creative.
Employers get dozens if not hundreds of cover letters. Many of those applicants are going to have the exact same skills as you, so you need to make your cover letter stand out right away.
My advice is to write to your reader. Start with a witty or funny intro, ask them a question, tell them something about the industry that they probably don't know. Write as though you were talking to the person directly. If you're copying and pasting the company's name into a prewritten cover letter, chances are high that you're not going to get an interview.
--Kim, Condo Control Central
My one tip for writing a cover letter that will make an employer want to interview you is to add a compelling P.S. at the end.
Hiring managers often read the P.S. before the rest of the cover letter because it’s short and easy to digest. Job seekers should take advantage of this psychological trick, and include a P.S. that makes their application stand out.
Adding a quick statistic or quip that sums up your accomplishments or mentioning something you share in common with the hiring manager immediately makes you a more memorable candidate, which should result in more interviews.
Here’s an example of what I mean:
“P.S. I saw on your LinkedIn profile that you attended the International Conference on Midwifery in New York last year. I attended too — I’d love to get your opinion on the speakers if we have time during the interview.”
--Samuel Johns, Resume Genius
Address a specific person in your cover letter.
A good cover letter needs to be very personal and well-crafted for a specific company and position. If you want to make a good impression, you need to show you invested some time and effort into applying for a job.
Instead of writing a template-based cover letter that starts with ‘’Dear Sir/Madam’’ or ‘’To whom it may concern’’, try researching the company a bit more and addressing a specific person in your intro. You can do so by looking at the company’s website or LinkedIn profile. Usually, you will be able to find information about HRs or business managers easily.
Don’t worry if you are not sure who exactly is doing the hiring process - in my opinion, it’s better to address the wrong person than to write a general introduction.
--Aleksandra Arsic, CapitalCounselor.com
I have read a lot of cover letters.
If you want to get noticed, you have to be different.
Some of the most interesting cover letters I've seen have been the ones that were a little off the beaten path. You read a lot of cover letters and you start noticing the things that actually stand out.
That doesn't mean unprofessional. But starting with a statement that grabs my attention—something unusual, something that makes me say Hang on—I didn't expect that. That helps.
--Zach Reece, Colony Roofers, LLC
As a hiring manager, cover letters have a massive influence on a candidate’s hiring probability. Here are my three tips for writing an effective cover letter:
Personalize cover letter templates before sending them. While there are a multitude of cover letter templates available online, personalizing your cover letter is crucial in showing your personality and character.
Avoid using fluff. A cover letter should be direct to the point. Remember that recruiters and hiring managers go through hundreds of applications for a single position alone, and reading a two-page or three-page cover letter is a huge turn-off.
Correlate how you can use your past experiences and achievements to contribute to the company. Although it is nice to inform recruiters of your achievements and experiences, all of it is useless unless you manage to tell recruiters how it will help you perform better in your applied position.
--Jeremy Owens, Seriously Smoked
Back in 2017, I was actively looking for a new position as Marketing Manager. And what worked well for me were application videos. I sent in formal cover letter and added additionally a short-link to my a video stating my motivation to work at a certain company.
It requires some work, but on the applications with videos I got 30% more invitations to a job interview.
--Corina Burri, corinaburri.com
My top advice on catching an employer’s eye with your cover letter is to be creative in your writing. Start your message with a passion you have linked to the job or an entertaining but true anecdote that relates. The idea is to keep the employer reading your leader. Craft your cover letter as a story about you, your passions, your creativity, and how those pieces put together to make you the best candidate for the job.
--Sarah Franklin, Blue Tree AI
Don't be generic. There's nothing worse than a generic cover letter that cannot stand out in the crowd. Research about company goals and values and emphasise them if they match your own values and previous experience.
For example, if you're applying for a software engineer position in a healthcare company, tell them a personal experience about why you care about people's health. Let them know about your learnings from a previous work experience in healthcare. Let them know about things that cannot go in your resume but are completely relevant to what they're looking for.
--Harsimran Kaur, eresume.tech
You can talk all you want about first sentences and plenty of other tenets of a cover letter, but to me (and I've read plenty of them) it all comes down to quantifiable examples. Remember, in a resume, a candidate typically doesn't have the room to offer this stuff up, which makes the cover letter the only real viable option for including. So if in a resume the candidate writes that they're a top salesperson, the cover letter should definitely include something along the lines of led the company in sales for the previous three quarters. If the company just launched a new initiative (and this is a very basic example) like selling products on eBay, the cover letter should include spearheaded the e-commerce campaign and built it to over $10k per month in additional sales. The examples run the gamut, but I'm sure you get the point. The cover letter is still relevant (to me) no matter what anyone else says, and what it has to say matters equally. To make it stand pout, you have to quantify your accomplishments.
--David Walter, Electrician Mentor
The most important piece of advice I would give, particularly to a recent college graduate, is to talk about personal projects and entrepreneurial activities. This demonstrates scrappiness, initiative and the types of traits that are incredibly valued by employers. This separates a candidate from the rest of the bunch because they can speak to real-life examples of their work and how they have applied their passions in real life. The employer can then deduce how the candidate will take that same vigor and apply it to their business.
--Kevin Miller, The Word Counter
My #1 tip for writing a cover letter is to be yourself, no really. Managers, whilst they want to see professionalism in a cover letter, they also want to see someone who can be creative and fit into their team. It doesn't take long to write a cover letter when you are writing from a personal perspective, but you lose all credibility when sending a copy and pasted one!
Whilst response rates to job applications are seemingly low, I have personally received more feedback (positive or negative) from those where I have added humor to my cover letter. I am a joker at heart, and when working in an office, I always joke around and have a good sense of humor. I want to portray that in my cover letter because that's my chance to really show the type of person I am.
If you don't get hired because you have been yourself, then it probably wasn't mean to be. When I say be yourself, you still have to keep regular cover letter formatting and stay professional. The way to succeed with this is with sarcasm. I remember applying for a job in content writing and the posting had a spelling mistake, I ended the cover letter with PS - Matriculate was spelled incorrectly, you can add attention to detail to my skills or just hire me now. I didn't get the job but I did receive a response saying We admired the courage to say that in a cover letter.
Previously, as a hiring manager, you sift through hundreds of cover letters. You rarely pay attention to the same boring cover letter templates. When you stumble across one that is different, it makes you stop in your tracks. THAT is exactly what you want to do when applying for a job, make an impression.
--Chad Wyatt, Remote Jobs Co
My #1 tip for writing a cover letter is to focus on communicating results that matter to the hiring company. That’s why every cover letter (and resume) has to be customized to match the job description.
A cover letter’s purpose is to get your resume read. Your resume’s purpose is to get you to the interview.
It doesn’t matter how good you are. What matters is what the interviewer/hiring manager knows about how good you are. That’s why your cover letter has to communicate this. And what better way than to get their attention with something that matters to them—and that is how you can help them achieve results for the particular role.
If the job description/ad is looking to increase their sales, then that has to be what you mention in your cover letter (and resume). If it says you’ll be in-charge of leading a change initiative, the cover letter has to communicate a similar change initiative that you’ve done and how it affected the bottom line.
--Ariel Lim, ariel-lim.com
Cover letters are a great way to set the stage for a potential interview. My biggest tip (and what most catches my eye) is when I see candidates tie in their real-world experience and transferrable skills to the position they are applying for. You want to make sure each cover letter is unique and specific to the position.
Do your research! Make sure you have a good understanding of the position and company values. It helps with the tie-ins. Get creative! Don't dismiss the little things you may have been exposed to in your job.
Were you in charge of maintaining inventory in your retail job due to your strong organization and attention to detail? Did you build your own computer in college? Or self-taught a new language? Bonus points if the cover letter is concise! You don't want to submit a dissertation - remember, this is meant to be an opening statement before the big reveal AKA your interview!
--Collin Kange, Avenica
Give it a personal touch. There's nothing more discouraging for a recruiter than reading yet another To Whom It May Concern letter with everything generic in it. An appealing cover letter should convey your interest in THIS particular company. Start by addressing it to a manager or a recruiter in charge of hiring. Then, explain your motivation to join the company, highlight only the relevant skills and experience of yours, those that would make a one, clear statement - you are perfect for this job. Show your personality; don't just list plain facts. Don't just assume anything, do proper research on the company you're applying to, and use the information gathered to show your real interest in this workplace. For instance, say, I started following your company since that X product launch back in 2018. I was impressed by the way you introduced it to other markets in such a short time. I see myself as a part of your team helping you to XX.
--Pete Sosnowski, Zety
Many people talk about the never-ending skills and abilities they have to offer to the company, but they never prove or demonstrate those skills. At the HR department, we evaluate candidates that can genuinely validate their traits by giving us examples, such as how they have added value to their previous workplace or projects using those skills. You say you're a good teacher? Tell us how many students you have successfully tutored. Five students? Ten? Give us examples through numbers. We like to see the numbers. Let us know what makes you a good fit for the company. That's what makes your cover letter stand out.
--Mike Allen, The Fashion Jacket
We like our candidates to think as a cover letter as a chance to expand on their CV. Too often we see an overview of the information what we can get from looking at the CV (if we do look at it, because the cover letter is really make or break!)
Add some personality and real world work and life experience. Hoe will this life experience help you to thrive in the advertised role? What sets you apart from the candidates whose cover letters I will read before and after yours?
We don't expect a novel, just one-page maximum. But please make it interesting! Do you have an unusual hobby or sport you play? Other skills the employer would like? Elaborate on it!
Did you once travel to another country for a gap year? Tell me more! Explain what you learnt and how you will apply it to your new role. What did you find difficult and how did you overcome difficulties? Travelling is always positive, especially if there was some employment involved. It shows a willingness to be open to new cultures and experiences, and an ability adapt and think on your feet.
One key piece of advice I have for those writing a cover letter is to mention what you can do for the company. In other words, what you bring to the table that can benefit the company. One way you can do this is mentioning a problem the company has been facing and detailing what skills you can use to solve that problem. Employers love to see applicants that have done their research on the company and are proactive in helping the company.
Many applicants make the mistake and focus on what they want from the company instead of the other way around. For example, what skills they want to learn from being employed at the company and the salary they’re seeking. You have to remember, a company is looking to hire you because they need someone that can help the company. They don’t need another employee who is seeking a job for their own self-gain.
--Anthony Harris, Kiwi Searches
One of the most important tips for cover letters is to keep them short and to the point. The person reviewing your application is reviewing dozens of other cover letters and if yours isn’t concise and to the point, they’ll move on to the next one.
It’s also important to always customize your cover letter to the company and the position. Add a personal sentence or two about your affinity for the organization, their culture and their mission to show you’ve done your homework and are not reusing cover letters.
It may sound simple, but make sure all information on your cover letter is represented in your resume, except personal statements. If you want to highlight your qualifications or expand on your experience, make sure it’s on your resume. The person reviewing your application will look at your resume first and your cover letter may not be read until you get to the next round.
Last tip, don’t forget to use the language on the job posting – Do they use Customer or Client? Do they use interpersonal skills or communication skills? Customize yours to what they are looking for.
--Lori Rush, Rush Recruiting & HR