Your cover letter is often the first impression a potential employer will have of you. A successful cover letter must strike a perfect balance between standing out amongst the sea of other applicants and getting the basics right – even the smallest mistake can cause a hiring manager to reject your application.
One hiring manager who has read hundreds of cover letters told Forbes.com that they decide within minutes whether a cover letter is good or bad, and this is based on:
- Getting the basics right
- The opening sentence
- Don’t be generic – provide compelling examples of your relevant experiences
Read on to find out exactly how to make sure you cover all of these things in your cover letter.
First of all, let’s define exactly what a cover letter needs to achieve.
- Explain your interest in the company and job
- Identify your relevant qualifications skills and experience and match them to those specified in the job description
- Entice the hiring manager to invite you to an interview
- It should not be a regurgitation of your CV
- Address your cover letter to the correct person. You can use LinkedIn or other social media platforms to find out the name of the relevant employee. Consider adjusting your LinkedIn privacy settings first so other people can’t see you’ve viewed their profile. Read our LinkedIn hacks here to learn how to avoid other mistakes like this.
- If you can’t find someone’s name, you can use a generic greeting. A recent survey found that the following openings were preferred by hiring managers:
Dear Hiring Manager (40%)
To Whom It May Concern (27%)
Dear Sir/Madam (17%)
- Your cover letter needs to be concise and focused – no more than a page in length.
- Proof-read everything – typos and grammatical errors are a sure-fire way to get your application rejected before the hiring manager has even had a chance to read it properly.
The opening sentence
The opening sentence is vital to engaging the hiring manager’s attention straight away. Avoid clichéd and boring opening sentences such as: “I’m writing to apply for the role of [job] at [company].
Instead, start it with an impactful statement about yourself such as these examples from themuse.com:
“If truly loving data is wrong, I don’t want to be right. It seems like the rest of the team at Chartbeat feels the same way—and that’s just one of the reasons why I think I’d be the perfect next hire for your sales team.”
“Most candidates are drawn to startups for the free food, bean bag chairs, and loose dress code. And while all of those things sound awesome coming from my all-too-corporate cubicle, what really attracted me to Factual is the collaborative, international team.”
“When I attended Austin Film Festival for the first time last month, I didn’t want to leave. So I decided I shouldn’t—and immediately went to check out job openings at the company.”
“My last boss once told me that my phone manner could probably diffuse an international hostage situation. I’ve always had a knack for communicating with people—the easy-going and the difficult alike—and I’d love to bring that skill to the office manager position at Shutterstock.”
You can also use attention-grabbing statistics and numbers in your opening sentence, such as: “In my three years at [company name], I increased our average quarterly sales by [percentage].”
Writing the rest of your cover letter
The rest of your cover letter should focus on pinpointing what the company wants and demonstrating that you have those qualities through examples. However, you shouldn’t follow a generic template – this is your chance to show off your personality and give meaningful insight into why you’d be great for the role.
Here is one simple strategy for structuring your cover letter:
- Analyse the job description thoroughly and write a list of every skill, quality and experience required by the company.
- Go through each item and write an example of how you live up to that requirement, including qualifications, experience, achievements, etc. Statistics here are particularly effective.
- Order your cover letter by prioritising your most-impactful examples first.
- Research the company and ensure that your cover letter shows how much you want to work for them and how you can benefit them – avoid too many “I” statements.
- Avoid using a repetitive format, such as “You’re looking for [skill]. I believe I can offer this, as demonstrated by [example]. This gets boring very quickly so mix-up your sentences. Askamanager.com give a great example of a generic cover letter being transformed by dynamic sentences and examples here.
- Re-read and edit your cover letter, removing any typos and clichéd sentences. Read our guide to avoiding clichés in your job application here.
How to finish your cover letter
The key to closing a cover letter is to end with a request, for a phone call, an interview or similar follow-up, like this example from time.com:
You could also end by saying “I will email you again next Thursday to follow-up on my application,” or something similar. It’s more effective to end with something actionable rather than leave it open-ended.
Finally, the end of your cover letter should be appropriately formal. “Thank you,” “Best,” “Best regards,” “Sincerely,” “All the best” and “Thank for your consideration” are all fine to use.