How to Write a Compelling Cover Letter That Stands Out
Cover letters may be one of the worst parts of finding a new job, but they can also be the reason your application is passed over or moved further along in the process—making them a necessary evil in most cases. If you’re tired of submitting the same cover letter with a different name—or perhaps you don’t seem to be getting past the initial resume screen—consider these tips for crafting a letter that will get you noticed.
Keep your formatting clean
This is just a basic piece of housekeeping, but an easy thing to get right (which can also work against you if done wrong). To begin with, match the formatting on your resume to that on your cover letter to visually streamline the experience for your reader.
As with your resume, choose a legible font and don’t use too small a font size: Short and sweet is definitely preferable for cover letters. On that note, be sure to leave a good amount of white space and keep your letter well under one page, as recruiters and hiring managers will likely miss your key points if they’re buried in mountains of text.
Don’t ruin your chances with the opener
One more simple trick before diving into the more time-consuming pieces: Tailor your ‘to’ line for each letter you write rather than going with a generic ‘To whom it may concern’ or (heaven forbid) ‘Dear sir or madam.’
This may mean spending a few more minutes researching, but is well worth it for the significantly more personalized result you’ll end up with. If the company is small enough, you may be able to guess who the hiring manager for the specific role is. Even better—if you can find a mutual connection to someone at the company, see if you can get a firsthand account of who is managing the recruiting process for the role you’re interested in. Best yet, you might even land yourself a referral for the role if you manage to get an intro to someone on the team (and being referred might mean you don’t need a cover letter after all!).
If addressing the letter to one individual doesn’t make sense, think about other ways you can personalize it. If the company calls their staff by a particular name (like Zipsters at Zipcar, for example), you might open with that: More important than who you actually address it to is the fact that it’s customized, which shows that you care enough about the role to spend a few minutes researching itl.
Spend extra time on a killer first line
This is where things get more challenging. While hiring managers may not make it through your entire letter, the first paragraph is almost guaranteed to be read—meaning it’s a perfect chance to make an impression, and one you won’t want to waste.
So rather than the standard “thank you for considering my application for [role]”, start with something punchy that demonstrates your passion for the role or company—or even shows you have a sense of humor. There’s no perfect formula for this, which is what makes it challenging, but setting the tone in a way that’s both engaging and authentic to your personality can be the perfect hook someone needs to keep reading.
Add something that’s not on your resume
If your cover letter is just your resume rephrased as paragraphs, what’s the point of having both?
Instead of simply repeating what’s already been said, use your cover letter to highlight things that might not show up on your resume—particularly if they make a stronger case for why you’d be great for the job. It can be useful to review the job post and pick out the top 2-3 things you think the team is most looking for in this hire—and then use these as guides to decide which of your experiences (either on or off your resume) to dig deeper into in the cover letter.
At the end of the day, while cover letters can feel like a huge pain, they’re ultimately just another opportunity to showcase to your potential employer what makes you the best person for the job. So rather than dreading your next cover letter, use it as an opportunity to better understand the role and what’s needed for it—and to pump yourself up for why you’d be a great fit.