Writing yet another cover letter? How are you supposed to stand out from the sea of applicants, and how are you supposed to motivate yourself?
You might wonder: why do we have to put so much effort into writing things the hiring manager only takes one look at? To ensure they take a second look, of course!
A stellar cover letter is what lands you an interview. By demonstrating your capabilities as well as interest and knowledge of the company, you paint a vivid picture of yourself beyond the bullet points on your resume.
I’ll share some pointers on how to make your cover letter clear, concise, and compelling, with example paragraphs from one of my cover letters.
Basic formatting is the easiest part of this task, but it’s essential. You want all your contact info at the top left, then the info of who you’re writing to, like this:
Your present address
City, State, Zip Code
Date of Letter
Name of Contact
Title of Contact
Name of Organization
City, State, Zip Code
Always try to find the name of the hiring manager, instead of addressing a generic title. Call the organization and ask if you need to. This shows that extra bit of effort, and helps you stand out.
Explain why you’re interested in the position.
Now is the time to quickly demonstrate your knowledge of the company, and explain why your own interests, skills, or even morals, match the organization. If you truly have a personal connection to the company, throw in that anecdote!
This paragraph basically previews the rest of your letter. If it’s not compelling, the hiring manager might stop here. But if you’ve got the right keywords and enthusiasm, they’ll want to know more about you.
In the last sentence, state the position that you’re applying for. Use a summary sentence like “I believe that my skills [list skills] make me a great candidate for [job].” or “As a [what you currently do], doing job] would…”
Here’s an example from a cover letter I personally wrote:
“As a starry-eyed elementary schooler, my dream job was to be an editor at a publishing house, because I thought they spent all day curled up on a sofa reading endless novels. Although I now view the job with less naïvety, every aspect of literary publishing still fascinates me. I’m really impressed by Coffee House Press’ emphasis on innovation and inclusivity, as well as your focus on inspiring readers by bridging the gap between audience and artist. As a Creative Writing major, interning at a small publishing house would be a dream come true.”
Body Paragraphs (1~2)
Each body paragraph should demonstrate a specific skill which you should be able to link back to your prospective job.
Show the reader a story, demonstrating that skill without bluntly stating it. You could talk about how you problem-solved at your internship, or designed a website, or took a leadership role in a club. Don’t ramble, but be descriptive with specific details.
Link it to the new job. Say “I would like to apply my passion/aptitude/interest in ___ to [job responsibility].”
Other skills, like coding, writing, or language proficiency, might be self-evident, and don’t require an explicit link.
Here’s another example:
“With the writing, editing, and research skills I’ve honed in my role as News Editor for Hamilton College’s newspaper The Spectator, I believe I could be a great asset to Coffee House Press. As a journalist, I’m accustomed to quick turnaround times, and can swiftly summarize large amounts of information from both the interviews I conduct and my own research. When evaluating literary submissions or researching acquisitions and donors, I’d be able to read analytically and write up clear and concise reports.”
Cover letters should ALWAYS be customized! Don’t just slap on a different company name and send in the last one you wrote.
Mention specific things listed in the job posting. What skills do they want? What responsibilities will you have? Link your previous experience to these.
However, my secret to save effort is to keep a giant word doc with all the body paragraphs you’ve used in cover letters. Don’t copy them word-for-word, but it’s an easy way to get you started and on track with the right tone of writing.
Here’s one other example:
“As an editor, I also fact-check and proofread every article that we publish, ensuring the integrity and quality of our paper. That includes lots of on-the-spot editing, cutting superfluous segments, or restructuring sentences to fit the page layout. Every Wednesday, my evening is spent creating the news section in Adobe InDesign, making decisions in line with both the Editor-In-Chief’s vision and my own. Elegant and visually appealing columns and picture layouts on each page are my goal, as are smaller details like adjusting paragraph and word spacing within the justified text. I would greatly enjoy designing and editing newsletters, marketing, and other press materials.”
“Editing newsletters, marketing and press material” was something mentioned in the job description, so I demonstrated my relevant experience with designing layouts.
Reread the Posting
Is there anything mentioned in the posting that you haven’t addressed? If they want leadership skills, you need to demonstrate leadership skills. Same with technical expertise or oral presentation ability.
Comb through every single word and see if you missed anything. Some smaller detail mentioned smack-dab in the middle of a paragraph could be the key to standing out as an applicant.
You can, and should, go read the company’s mission statement and explore beyond the job listing. What aura or vibe do they cultivate? Match them with your writing style — but don’t be too informal.
Reiterate your interest and provide your contact information, like this:
I look forward to speaking with you and discussing the contributions I can make. Feel free to call me at [phone], or email [email address]. Thank you for your time and consideration.
Show Your Personality
This is the only chance for recruiters to get to know you before the interview stage. Show them your personality, your work ethic, and your problem solving style, so they get a better sense of who you are as a person.
Make it easy for them to imagine you fitting into their team. Make it clear how much you want to be on that team. Highlight all the ways you’re perfect for this position and why you’ll do a stellar job.
A great cover letter can boost a middle of the pack resume, or elevate a great candidate to a no-brainer hire. Be sure not to skimp on this work and good luck!