- Category: Advice & Tips
- Published: October 12, 2011
- Written by Ted Hekman
It’s the job of the cover letter to make the person want to read the resume. That’s it. The letter doesn’t get you the interview — that’s the resume’s job. But if your cover letter isn’t persuasive in a different way, your brilliantly crafted resume will never make it to the first pass.
So what makes a great cover letter? Here are 5 easy tips to make your cover letter stand out.
Keep it short.
Having too much detail in your cover letter will take some of the glory from your resume. In the days of paper resumes, it was called a cover letter because its purpose was to “cover” the other item in the envelope: in this case, the resume. It’s similar to what you might say when you hand someone an information piece of some kind: “Here’s the sales report for this month. The results are excellent, mainly because we introduced the new product line.”
Similarly, tell the person what you are sending and why, with one point that ties in with what they will read in the resume. It’s what the advertising industry calls “teaser copy.”
A cover letter should never be more than one page.
Be clear about what job you are applying for.
Some companies have many jobs available and advertised at the same time, and all the resumes probably land in HR to be sorted. So if you don’t clearly spell out which job you want, why should they take time to guess? They won’t — your letter and resume will be thrown out without being read.
If you are responding to a want ad in the newspaper or online, it may have a file number or job number associated with it. Make sure you quote that number so that your letter will end up in the right pile. You don’t want to send your carefully written accounting resume to be chasing a job as a copywriter!
Illustrate you have researched the company.
Review the company’s website to get a feel for its culture and current operations. Find a way to reference this in your cover letter as a reason you are a good fit for the job. Most people don’t take time to do this, so right away your application will stand out from all the cookie cutter letters. When referring to the company, do so by name. Just referring to “your company” makes it sound as if you don’t care which company you work for.
Address it to the right person.
Find out who is hiring for this particular job. If the ad or job posting just gives the person’s title or position, call the company and get that person’s name. If your letter is addressed to Bob Treadway, that will stand out from all those who wrote to Dear Sir/Madam or To Whom It May Concern, and show you have initiative. If the person’s name is something like Francis or Jackie, again call the company and ask if it is a man or a woman, and address the letter accordingly. It’s just a little extra touch that shows you did your homework.
At this stage in the game, you still want to show respect by using the person’s last name. So your letter will begin with Dear Mr. Treadway — not Dear Bob.
Technicalities that can make all the difference in your perceived professionalism:
- Use a standard business letter format, even if you are sending it by e-mail. You can find sample formats online.
- Use standard business fonts. Many people mistakenly think that using fancy or fun fonts will make their cover letters stand out. They will stand out, but for the wrong reason! Keep it businesslike.
- If you are sending your application by e-mail, the body of the e-mail is your cover letter, and your resume should be an attachment.
- If you are using the traditional mailed application, type your cover letter on plain white paper that matches your resume.
- Type and sign all your cover letters individually. Avoid anything that suggests it’s a form letter you are sending to many prospective employers.
- Finally, check your letter (and your resume) several times to be sure they contain no typos, spelling or grammar mistakes. Then have someone else read them after you — a second pair of eyes can spot things you may have missed because you are so familiar with the material.
Here’s a bonus tip.
Don’t be afraid to let your personality show in your cover letter. If you think this job is tailor made for you, say so. The company might just agree!
Ted Hekman is the CEO of ResumeBucket.com, a FREE online resume storage service that also has one of the largest collections of sample resumes on the internet.
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