When you’re applying for jobs, it’s easy to overlook the role of cover letters. You might want to rush through the process and quickly put together a generic cover letter that you use each time you apply for a new job. But, a cover letter might be more important than you realize.
A survey by ResumeLab found that 83% of HR professionals say cover letters are an important part of the hiring decision, and 72% of recruiters expect a cover letter, even if the job application says it is optional.
Cover letters can be the difference between you getting the interview — and the job. So don’t rush through the process. Instead, follow these nine best practices to write a cover letter that stands out and attracts the attention of hiring managers.
#1) Write a custom cover letter for each job you apply for.
Cover letters aren’t one size fits all. You can’t write one cover letter and submit it to every company you apply to. Instead, personalize each letter with information specific to the job and company. Consider drafting a “base” letter that you use to start each application and then make adjustments to it for each job you apply to.
#2) Avoid generic salutations.
Beginning a cover letter with a “Dear Ms./Mr.” or “To Whom It May Concern” used to be considered polite in times when you didn’t know how you were reaching out to. However, in the Internet-era, it doesn’t take long to learn who a company’s hiring manager is or who you will be working for. Take some time to research the business and its employees and see if you can find a name to use on the cover letter.
#3) Don’t rehash your resume.
Hiring managers already have access to your resume. They don’t need to read a letter explaining what you have done and when. Instead of going through your work history, consider highlighting a few key skills you have and how you’ve used them. You can also describe a few projects you worked on in greater detail than your resume allows.
Related: 7 Tips to Make Your Resume Stand Out (And Get the Job)
#4) Show what you know about the company.
Cover letters don’t just have to focus on you. They can also show what you know about the company you are applying to. Show the company that you understand their pain points – like a peak season coming up or a new product launch – and tie your skills to the solutions to those problems. For example, you can mention that a retailer is preparing for a holiday rush and highlight how you are free to work nights and weekends.
#5) Refer to the details of the job posting.
The employer is looking for specific skills, so tell them how you are the best fit for the situation. Use the job posting to guide your cover letter, explaining how you can meet the needs of the company and job requirements. This also shows that you paid close attention to the listing.
#6) Show your personality.
Many people think cover letters need to be serious and formal. However, it’s possible to be fun and engaging while maintaining your professionalism. Once you have your cover letter base, go through again and add some color. A few fun sentences or commentary can help your personality shine through and make you more human and approachable.
#7) Keep it to a few paragraphs.
Your cover letter doesn’t need to be more than one page long. You are introducing yourself, not telling your life story. You want to intrigue the hiring manager enough to get a call. Longer cover letters also tend to have “filler” where you add too much information or include irrelevant details. Try to trim your letter back to just the essentials.
#8) Add a call-to-action.
A call-to-action encourages the reader to do something with the information they just read. Consider adding a sentence at the end encouraging the hiring manager to call you or visit your LinkedIn profile to learn more about your qualifications. This can also help you wrap up the letter.
#9) Ask someone to read (and edit) your cover letter.
Find a friend or a relative who is willing to read your cover letters and offer feedback for improvement. They can catch any typos that you might have missed or highlight sections that aren’t clear. Someone who knows your work history might also be able to help you identify job experience that you missed or failed to highlight.
Related: Looking to Change Careers? Take These Six Steps
Get Help with Writing Cover Letters and Resumes
The cover letter is an important part of your job application, but it needs to stand alongside your resume and interview in order to help you land a job. To improve your skills, check out a few of the workshops offered at CareerSource.
We have multiple virtual workshops each week that cover topics ranging from interview preparation to resume writing. See if there are any that can help you, and register today. Or, contact us for more information about our services for career seekers.