How to Write a Great Cover Letter (and Avoid Mistakes)

There are a lot of factors that determine whether your job application gets you shortlisted for an interview. Some of them are under your control, and some aren’t.

One of the most important things you do have control over is your cover letter. This is going to make your first real impression with the hiring manager. The cover letter effectively serves as an introduction to you and your career story, explaining why you want (and are qualified for) the job.

While cover letters are a bit of an art and a science, there are some concrete steps and lessons for your cover letter that will let you greatly improve its quality, and impression.

Here are a few helpful rules.

Use professional language

Don’t use outdated business writing, such as beginning your cover letter with “to whom it may concern.” I’ve looked through a lot of cover letters and seeing them start with a stuffy greeting can immediately disengage the reader. Similarly, write in plain English, without being overly worded or using long or technical phrases. You may think using big words makes you sound good, but unless you’re talking about the specifics of the job, keep the writing simple.

Address the hiring manager directly

Figure out the hiring manager’s name and exact title, and address your cover letter to them. This information isn’t hard to find — try LinkedIn if you can’t find it on the organization’s website.

Don’t repeat your resume, expand upon it

A good cover letter will describe and impress upon the reader how your qualifications make you perfect for the job. But a trap a lot of applicants fall into is simply repeating the same information already on their resume. Your cover letter isn’t just a longer version of your resume/CV. It takes that information and builds upon it, guiding the reader through your career and qualifications.

Do your research on where you are applying

Take a bit of time to research the place you are applying to, paying close attention to both the specifics of the job role and also the organization’s values and work culture. Then, in your cover letter, link your experience and qualifications to the organization where appropriate, and show (not tell) how your background makes you a good fit.

Use the same formatting as your resume

Your resume and cover letter should match each other in formatting and general layout. So make sure things like font and font size are equal, margins and spacing match, and — important — your heading (name, phone, email, address) is exactly the same between the two documents. People will notice any differences.

Proofread, then proofread again

Think you’re done writing your cover letter? Take another look, and look closely for errant typos or grammatical mistakes. Though built-in spell checkers will catch a lot of easy errors, they also miss many common mistakes, like an extra a or the, which will stand out like a sore thumb for hiring managers.

Read it again, and print it off then do another proofread because we miss a lot of small mistakes when only reading on computer screens. If you’re using the same cover letter when applying to multiple jobs, be sure to double check you’ve changed the name of the organization — this is something a lot of people will miss during the stress of cover letter writing, and it will ruin the effort you put in to the rest of your letter.

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