Secrets to Writing a Great Cover Letter

By KIMMEL & ASSOCIATES on DECEMBER 22, 2015

Learn how to write a great cover letter by keeping it real.

John includes the same template cover letter with each résumé he sends out. It basically reiterates his qualifications and thanks the recipient for considering him for the job. Kelly, on the other hand, crafts a different letter to accompany each résumé. She uses the letter to highlight specific experiences that might be overlooked on her résumé.

While there are many factors that go into a hiring process, the Human Resources representative collecting job applications and résumés has a simple task: say no. It’s easy to say no to unqualified applicants. But when weeding through qualified applicants, the little things can make a big difference. A terrific cover letter is one of those little things.

Learn the Basics of Cover Letter Writing

You might think that learning how to write a great cover letter wouldn’t pose much of a challenge. But it can be intimidating when your future rests on its contents. And if you are in the midst of a job-hunt marathon, answering ads and sending out résumés every day, you may get sloppy with your writing.

Don’t make John’s mistake. Don’t get sloppy when writing cover letters. It could cost you a great job. Remember: there is a person on the receiving end of your résumé. That person deserves your best at every opportunity. That means no typos, no mistakes, and excellent writing. To help you craft an effective cover letter, follow these tips to boost your efforts from bland to brilliant.

1. Create an Original Cover Letter

Whatever you do, refrain from relying on the cover letter examples you might find on some job-hunting websites. While you might be tempted to use one to make it easier, your strategy will backfire. A form letter screams to hiring managers that you couldn’t take the time to tailor your cover letter to their needs and their ads.

Form letters don’t convey enough about you. They tend to come across as a bad article full of lists. If you want to succeed, you can’t cheat. You need to spend time to create a great cover letter. Your letter has to reflect who you are and how you fit the advertised role at the company. Your letter has to inspire the hiring manager to set aside your résumé for an interview.

2. Keep Your Letter Short

Editing a great cover letter

Remember that hiring managers look at cover letters every day. They have to sort through them quickly. They can tell a good one from a bad one. So you need a great cover letter to nab their attention.

First impressions never go away, so this is the time to tell an employer exactly why you are the right person for the job. Write whatever occurs to you at first, no matter how long it runs — and then edit, edit, edit. Pare it down so your cover letter fits on one page, preferably within three to four paragraphs.

3. Show Your Enthusiasm

If you’re applying for a job in an industry you’ve always wanted to work in, say so. This is particularly important if the position is slightly outside your degree field or your previous experience. If you are looking to switch careers, make sure the person who receives your cover letter knows that your lifelong dream is to work in their field or for their company.

In fact, enthusiasm often tops experience for some hiring managers. When they get tired of reading the same, boring cover letter examples, a fresh and honest approach can pique their interest. A winning – and great cover letter – can barely contain enthusiasm for the job, the product and/or the industry. Be conversational, but professional and sincere.

4. Go Beyond Your Résumé

Groceries

Your résumé should be concise, so put into your cover letter what your résumé doesn’t explain. Examples include pertinent job experiences that were too old to put on your résumé or transferable skills that aren’t highlighted on your résumé. Don’t forget to mention any relevant volunteer experience as well.

Think back over every job you’ve ever had, starting with babysitting or grocery bagging in high school. Think about the different tasks you completed or the new things you were trained to do. All of that counts, but all of it will not fit on your résumé. Use those experiences to flesh out a great cover letter that provides an introduction into your true nature and personality.

5. Write in Concrete Terms

In addition to listing your experience on your résumé, list specific and relevant skills. For each one, include how many years you’ve been practicing that skill. Saying, for example, “I have 10 years of experience managing a team” is much more impactful than just stating that you have experience in management.

Typically, a list of skills does not include how punctual or hard working you are. These attributes, along with your great sense of humor and creativity, may be important to a hiring manager. But if they’re not on your résumé, they will remain unknown to your potential employer. Include them in your cover letter.

If you’re struggling to come up with other characteristics to include in your effective cover letter, ask your family, closest friends and even past coworkers. Now is the time to toot your own horn with respect to those excellent traits that don’t fit under a traditional “skills” section on your résumé.

6. Match The Hiring Company’s Tone

Ping Pong game

Not all businesses were created equal. You’ll find a huge difference between talking to a representative of a Fortune 100 company and talking to the owner of a start-up business. So alter your strategy — and the tone of your cover letter — to match the company you’re applying to.

If the job description makes jokes, uses slang and mentions after-hours activities, feel free to let your own voice shine as well. The closing paragraph is the best place to mention your own passions, whether it be for ping-pong and free lunches or basketball and art galleries.

Sometimes younger business owners or non-traditional workplaces ask for things outside the norm, like your favorite joke, the best book you’ve read lately or an idea for their blog. Don’t be afraid to go for it. These instructions are meant to draw out your personality while also determining if you can follow directions.

7. Write to the Job Description

This is the most effective strategy for writing cover letters, and it’s what Kelly did and John didn’t do. Read through the job description to note what the company is seeking. Often the description will state exactly what they want and don’t want. As in: “must have Adobe Creative Suite experience,” or “do not apply if you cannot type 50 wpm.” In your cover letter, write clearly how your experiences and education match what the company is seeking. You can even repeat the job description in your letter and then answer it, point for point.

If the description asks for skills or experience that you don’t have, don’t ignore it. A hiring manager will notice the omission. Instead, use the space to point out that you’ve always wanted to learn that skill, that you have some indirect experience, or that you are already taking a course for that particular skill.

A Great Cover Letter Yields Great Results

Remember that a great cover letter will be your introduction to a new company. You want to make a good first impression. Don’t rely solely on your education or previous job experience to get your foot in the door; businesses are looking for more than that. Write a great cover letter by making sure your experience and personality jump off the page, grabbing the attention of the hiring powers that be. Do that and you’ll get the results you want — an interview.

The Author

Straight from the desk of

Kimmel & Associates

Kimmel & Associates

Marketing & Communcations

Kimmel is an executive search firm located in Asheville, North Carolina. Our professional recruiters are committed to exceeding client expectations. They work with the same dedication, honesty, and attitude of service that has been the Kimmel standard for over 34 years.

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