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Career Advice

How to Write a Cover Letter for a Job

Posted by Heather Huhman

Last Updated July 21, 2021

Cover letters don’t get enough credit today, but they are actually a valuable instrument in the job seeker’s toolkit. They give you a chance to stand out and share more of you than your resume and application allow.

Here’s how to write an awesome cover letter:

Toss Out Those Templates

The most popular advice for writing cover letters usually involves using a template. But you should focus on customizing your letter to your audience, not filling out an existing template. When you’re applying to a medical supply company, for example, your cover letter should be different from the one you’re writing for a retail organization. Conduct research on the company as well as the position to determine the best way to customize. Brush up on their competitors as well to develop a deeper understanding about what makes them unique.

You want them to know you did your homework and are engaged with the industry. Use your research wisely in your cover letter. For example, note how their recent press release that announced a new project management solution reminded you of some of the hurdles you overcame in the past during one of your big marketing campaigns.

Tell Your Story

The framework for your cover letter should depend on the stories you want to tell. Remember, a cover letter complements your resume; it does not regurgitate it. Hiring professionals want to see who you are. Before drafting your cover letter, compare your skills with the requirements for the position. Use venn diagrams to brainstorm and find what competencies you want to highlight and what specific experiences you want to share. Assign “me” to the circle on the left and “employer” to the circle on the right. Under “me,” list your experiences and skill set, and under “employer,” add the preferred and required skills they list in their job description. Then identify what falls into both circles, and that overlap will inspire the content of your cover letter. You have to connect your relevant skills to those necessary for the job.

Let’s say you’re applying for a marketing director position. Among other aspects in the description, the job requires several years of marketing experience, a deep knowledge of lead generation, and strong communication skills. Describe how, in your previous role as a marketing manager, you ran several campaigns for your clients and exceeded their expectations of lead generation (with specific numbers, if possible), and how you also trained and mentored new associates on how to manage their own accounts, which improved client retention rates.

Your anecdote is accomplishing a lot at once—it’s demonstrating one of your top hard skills, lead nurturing, and showcasing how you can collaborate with trainees, communicate effectively, and educate new employees on processes and client relations. You’re proving that you can meet the communication standards and marketing knowledge they’re seeking.

Express Your Passion

You shouldn’t just say that you want the job or that you love your industry. You have to show your passion. Share why your career path best suits you and how your love for your work drives and motivates you. For example, answer some questions about what made you want to enter the field, how your personality helps you succeed, and what past experiences influenced your career decisions.

Recruiters always remember the personal side of cover letters—this is when you become more than just another applicant. They connect your experiences with your name because you’re giving them another dimension of you, sharing what makes you unique.

Pick an Appropriate Voice and Tone

Another benefit of researching the company is that you will get an idea of what their culture is like. You can use their culture to dictate the tone you want to use, which may differ greatly, depending on where you apply. For example, the tone of your letter for a legal consulting firm likely will differ from a tech startup. The former may be more formal, while the latter is most likely a casual work environment. But ultimately, you don’t want to write your voice out of the cover letter. Be authentic and show some personality.

If you’re unsure about what tone works best, select a more conversational approach. That doesn’t mean use slang. You still need to use proper and professional grammar. But the tone and language should be engaging, pleasant, and warm.

End with a Call to Action

It’s no secret that you want to advance through the application process. End your letter with a reason for them to contact you. But don’t add remarks like, “I’ll call to schedule an interview.” This doesn’t make you a go-getter, it crosses a boundary. Instead, let the call to action be polite and open ended, suggesting that you are excited to offer more information and that you’re looking forward to further discussing your value.

Proof It

Finally, have friends and family read through the cover letter. Ask them to set aside their biases and assess the effectiveness of it. Does it capture who you are as a person? Did you use the right tone and voice? Does it make them want to call you so they can learn more about you? This is crucial to landing an interview.

These tips should help you land an interview for the job of your dreams.