How to make your cover letter effective

Cover letters do not just support your resume, they offer you a first chance to impress a potential employer.

Your cover letter may be your best opportunity to stand out from the crowd and to demonstrate the match between an employer’s job requirements and your skills and qualifications. With your cover letter you’re trying to persuade a recruiter to put you through to the next round – schedule an in-person or – at least – a phone interview.

A cover letter should highlight specific abilities, experiences and talents that make you the ideal candidate for the job you’ve applied for, and show a potential employer why they should hire you and what value you will bring to their business. Through the cover letter, you will be able to demonstrate your ability to write, communicate and articulate your ideas effectively.

Therefore, it’s important that you don’t spend hours on perfecting your resume, at the expense of your cover letter.

If you need some inspiration, here are some tips on what to include in a cover letter and how to format them.

Go back to basics

In your cover letter, as well as your resume, use a standard, easy-to-read font, formatted simply, but powerfully. Using a standard, easy-to-read font like Arial is not going to annoy anyone who’s reading.

Keep it short

Keep your cover letter as short as possible. Failing to stick to a one-page format can send the wrong signals to recruiters and hiring managers, so try not to exceed one page. They can’t waste their time and need to find the ‘meat’ in your cover letter as quickly and efficiently as possible.

Use a cover letter template to help you with this. It’s also a great way to include your contact information at the top in a header.

Use the same keywords

Always use language from the job description. Using the same keywords that the company has used in its job description helps you to be relevant when you’re explaining why you’re an ideal candidate for that specific position. Not to mention that this also helps you if your application is initially processed by an applicant tracking system (ATS) or a resume parser.

Mention the job title

Always include the specific job title for which you’re applying as the person to whom you have sent your application could be conducting several concurrent searches. Also, be sure to mention where you saw the job opening; whether it was on the company website, on a job board or on LinkedIn.

Market yourself

You need to be careful when writing a cover letter. Though you have to be confident when showing that you understand the job description and how your skills and experience are relevant to the position; going too far or over the top may backfire.

You absolutely don’t want to be excessively or unctuously flattering. However, if you’re bland, boring and standard, you may not get a response.

Show a little personality in your cover letter, but find the right balance between being overly formal and too informal. Let your passion and enthusiasm come through, as long as it doesn’t sound fluffy or hokey.

What should you include?

What should you include in the body of your cover letter? Simply, the areas of your resume that you’re particularly proud of, or that you feel are especially relevant to the job you want.

Choose an accomplishment, a skill or a project that you believe will catch the recruiter’s eye professionally, but make sure you’re not being repetitive.

The body of your cover letter is where you can mention if you have a particular interest or area of expertise that will be a good fit to the specific job. Tell them why you would be an asset to the company, the unique things you have to offer and how they would benefit from having you on their team. As well, highlight relevant experience and important information that would be of interest to hiring managers – for example, if you’ve worked for their largest competitor – as these are things that may entice a hiring manager to call you for an interview.

If you’re sending your application at the request of someone at the company, lead with this information, as this gets noticed quickly by whoever’s reading your letter, and will help you stand out.

Double-check the small stuff

Double-check the month and date at the top of your cover letter, the company name, job title and name of the contact to whom you’re sending the application; you can’t make a mistake with these “small” details.

You also shouldn’t assume a female contact is married; always use Ms. instead of Mrs. when addressing your letter. If you’re unsure about a contact’s gender, do some research online to make sure you’re using the correct pronouns, as you don’t want to risk offending a potential employer, and reduce your chances of getting an interview.

Finally, proofread, spell check and re-read your cover letter and resume to find errors. If you have time, ask someone you trust to go over the documents with fresh eyes — they might find typos or errors you’ve missed.

In most cases, your cover letter is the first impression a hiring manager, recruiter or HR professional has of you — make sure it’s the best it can possibly be.

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