How to write an outstanding cover letter that employers will actually read

how to write an outstanding cover letter

Many of us struggle with our cover letters. While templates are available to help create one, knowing how to write a cover letter that is outstanding can be challenging. When you’re competing to land a job, you want to stand out from the crowd of other applicants. This can be challenging when most of us use the same format and clichés in our applications.

Plus, it can be demotivating to put a great deal of effort into perfecting a document that there’s a very good chance nobody will ever read. Most HR professionals surveyed admit that they never look at cover letters from applicants anymore.

Still, you have to send one. If your potential employer does want to read a cover letter with your resume, you don’t want to come across as the lazy applicant who didn’t bother to write one. This is the first impression that you are creating. So, since you have to write a cover letter, you should make the most of the opportunity to enhance your candidacy. Here’s how to write an outstanding cover letter that employers will want to read.

Address it to the right person

Address the employer/hiring manager by name. People are far more likely to read correspondence addressed to them directly vs. a more generic opening such as the traditional “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To whom it may concern.”

While you won’t always be able to get the hiring manager’s name, there are often ways that you can find out. The most obvious is if you are asked to apply to a specific email address. Corporate email addresses usually contain the name of the recipient. If it is not the complete name, a quick search of the company’s website or LinkedIn can often give you the first and last name. The company’s About Us page or staff directory could also give you the department head’s name for the job you’re targeting.

Speaking of LinkedIn, looking up companies and their employees also frequently reveals who is in charge of hiring for the position. Even if it doesn’t, LinkedIn can still show you who you are connected to at the company. Ask your connections to whom you should address your cover letter – or, even better, for a personal referral.

Employers will always prefer an application with a recommendation from someone they know over an anonymous resume. There is also a much greater chance that they will read your cover letter carefully.

Write original content

Just as you should always customize your resume for each job you apply for, you must create a unique cover letter for the position. This applies to both the tone and content of your writing. For example, if you are applying for a role at a creative ad agency, your cover letter should probably be less formal than applying to a bank or law firm.

You want to open with your strengths. Too many cover letters begin with something like, “I am writing to apply for the position of ____________ that was recently posted on CareerBeacon.”

Employers will see that line so often that none of those candidates will stand out. Try an opening line that highlights who you are and why you should get the job. Here are some examples.

How you can contribute:

Let the employer know that you are very familiar with their company and brand and are already excited to participate.

“I was reading your company’s blog, and I have some exciting ideas about how I think we could make it even more, engaging for a broad audience. I’m a writer with nearly a decade of experience at…”

Why you are motivated:

Tell the employer why you are enthusiastic about working for them specifically.

“Your product/service changed my life. Before I discovered ______________, I wasn’t satisfied with the options available. That is why I would be such a passionate advocate for your brand and would love the opportunity to represent it on the market…”

Your top qualifications:

Since the goal of your application is to highlight how you can outshine the other applicants, consider opening with your most robust credentials.

“My expertise in updating IT security programs for enterprise organizations has been recognized with performance awards at my previous two employers in a row. My top skills include…”

Keep it short once you’ve addressed your resume to the right person, and begin with a strong opening.

Be concise and make sure that every sentence enhances your application. There’s no room for filler. If you want to highlight multiple skills or accomplishments, use short paragraphs or bullet points and white space to enhance readability.

Don’t be repetitive. Remember that if employers read your cover letter, the next thing they’ll do is look at your resume. You don’t want them to be seeing the same points twice in a row. Make sure your cover letter contains original writing and showcases supplemental information from your resume.

Your cover letter can also bridge the gap between your past work and the job you are targeting. It can highlight why you are interested in the position and how your previous accomplishments indicate that you’ll be great at it.

Just make sure that your resume also proves how you’d be an excellent fit for the job – just in case the cover letter isn’t read.

Use the right format

It is super important to use the correct format for your cover letter, from a length and font perspective, and also how you save it and share it with the hiring manager.

First off, keep your cover letter short. Eighty-two percent of respondents said a cover letter should be less than one page long, and half of those prefer a cover letter to be less than half a page. Only 18% think a cover letter should be more than a page long.

Looking at the best fonts for a cover letter, the top five were:

Times New Roman – 70%
Calibri – 50%
Arial – 44%
Cambri – 31%
Garamond – 28%

When you save your cover letter and share it with the hiring manager, don’t just put it in the body of your email. Please save the file with your name and the job title and attach it to your application. There are often scenarios where the hiring manager wishes to share your cover letter with others on the team. Make it easy for them, and it also shows that you are considerate and follow directions well.

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