Cover letters are an essential part of getting yourself noticed and respected when applying for a job, especially in today’s job search market and when a majority of your resume submissions will be online. If you are looking through job postings, you’ll notice that many will ask you to provide a cover letter along with your resume. Even if they don’t ask for one, it’s still good practice to provide one.
So what is the best strategy for writing a good cover letter? There really isn’t one answer. You can find all sorts of information and resources on cover letters: templates, strategies online or at the library, or by talking to a career counselor. And much of what you find might even contradict other resources. If you talked to a couple of different career counselors, you would probably hear a couple of conflicting pieces of advice.
Find the strategy that works best for you. If that means picking and choosing pieces from different templates or employing different cover letter-writing philosophies into one method that fits with your writing style and personality, go for it.
- Tell Your story. Write your cover letter in a way that tells your personal story, rather than a timeline of your achievements and/or previous positions.
- Address it to someone specific. Don’t start off by saying, “Dear hiring manager” or “Whomever it may concern”. Try and find out who is actually going to be reading your cover letter and address it to that person. This person may be listed on a job post, or they could perhaps be found by going through the company website. If you can’t find an actual person, address it to the company. If you don’t do this, it looks like you are sending out the same 100 cover letters to 100 different companies.
- Customize it to the job position and company. You don’t need to write a completely different cover letter for every one you send out, but you should specifically talk about the job position and company that you are applying for at some point in the cover letter, again making it clear that you care enough about working there to write them a personalized letter.
- Templatize it as much as you can. Find the balance of customization and templatization. Customize maybe a paragraph to the job you’re applying for, and templatize the rest. This will save you a huge amount of time and allow you to send out dozens in a week without putting all your effort into writing a new cover letter each time. Check out our free cover letter template for more guidance.
- Keep it under a page. When writing a cover letter, you want to find that sweet spot of providing enough information to convince the person reading it to bring you in for an interview, but not make it so long that they are going to immediately discard it. Hiring managers get A LOT of cover letters, and I’ve heard first hand that if they get one too long, they usually don’t even read it. Shoot for four paragraphs, and an overall length that wont take anyone more than a minute or two to read.
Make sure there are no spelling or grammatical errors. Proof-read whatever you are about to send out – over, and over and over again. One small error can easily be the kiss of death. Even if the rest of your cover letter and resume is amazing, if you don’t know how to correctly use grammar or correct spelling, its will be assumed that you don’t know how to do a lot of other things correctly as well. I once flushed a perfect opportunity down the drain because I wrote “right” instead of “write”. The person that replied to me even told me I was a perfect fit, but they couldn’t overlook such an error.