Once you’ve gotten the basics down, there are still a few very important cover letter strategies you’ll want to implement. There are good cover letters, and then there are GREAT ones, and we’ve got some of the best cover letter tips to help yours fall into the latter category. Additionally, we’ll talk about some of the cover letter mistakes you’ll want to avoid.
A Perfect Fit
Out of all the cover letter tips you could find, this one is the most important:
You should always tailor your cover letter to each individual company and job opening you apply for!
It’s tempting to have a single cover letter that you just reuse. Cover letters do, after all, take time to get the wording just right, and it’s not as if companies would know if you sent them the same cover letter you sent to another company. However, if you don’t tailor your cover letter, you’re making one of the most common cover letter mistakes: failing to demonstrate how you are a perfect fit for a specific position.
To be clear, it’s okay to have an overall format that you use – if you look at outstanding cover letter samples, you’ll probably notice some similarities in structure. The key is to use that standard professional format to highlight your strengths and to convince the reader that you’re a great match for the position in question.
Questions to Consider
When tailoring a cover letter, it’s often helpful to think about the following questions:
- What type of candidate would the company be interested in or need?
- What are the company’s values and priorities?
- What need is the company trying to solve?
- What does the company want from its applicants?
Try to relate the content of your cover letter to these questions. If a company is known to value something particular, talk about your experience that demonstrates that value.
How to Research
Some companies have very public brands, so it’s easy to find much of the above information. Other times, you may have to go digging a bit more. Some of the resources you may want to use include:
- The company website (take notice of mission statements and vision statements)
- Recent news articles about the company
- Sites that allow current and former employees and candidates to rate and discuss the company
Take note of anything that gives you an insight into the company – as well as anything that makes you genuinely excited to apply with them!
In short, you want your cover letter to be clearly designed for the specific position. Everything from the header to the anecdotes and experiences you cite should relate back to what the position and company need.
Five Quick Tips and Tricks
Now that you have an idea of what should go into a cover letter, let’s take a look at some of the best cover letter strategies to make you stand out in the best way possible.
1. Follow directions
Pay close attention to any directions the company includes on the job posting or application. Keep an eye on any specific instructions and be sure to follow them to the best of your ability. The only exception is if an employer asks a question that sends up a red flag, such as questions about whether you have children, nationality, or disability. Tread carefully around questions like these – don’t include information you’re uncomfortable with, and consider if the company’s values still make you want to work for them.
2. Address the letter correctly
Formatting a cover letter is one of the things that trips up many applicants, so remember to double-check for correct style and formatting! If you’re able to find the name of the hiring manager, be sure to address the salutation to that person directly. Otherwise, a simple “Dear Hiring Manager” is a more current neutral phrase than “To Whom It May Concern.”
3. Be specific
When you explain your qualifications, be specific about what those jobs or experiences entailed. Ideally, you’ll highlight some specific aspect that connects to the job you’re applying for.
4. Focus on results
Related to the above advice, your examples should tell a story that shows the end product of your work. What positive impact did you have? Why should this experience matter to a prospective employer?
5. Be concise
Keep your cover letter to one page. Just highlight the most relevant skills and experiences, rather than replaying your resume.
Now let’s take a look at a few common cover letter mistakes and how you can avoid them.
Five Mistakes to Avoid
Even with plenty of advice and experience, there are a few mistakes that many job seekers make on their cover letters. Here are a few of the most common – and how to keep them from hurting your job search.
1. Generic letters
Sound familiar? We discussed this already but it bears repeating: always customize and tailor your cover letters to the individual jobs. Avoid generic phrases and be specific, from using the company’s name to discussing specific aspects of the potential job in relation to your experience.
It’s tempting to pad your cover letter with lengthy sentences to show off your language skills, but concise is always better. Avoid repeating skills or experiences as well.
While it’s fine to pattern your cover letter after advice from a career advisor or an online guide, don’t copy directly – especially the language. Try to avoid cliché and overused phrases too – it’s okay to let a little bit of your own voice shine through!
4. Irrelevant information
A cover letter should be one page or less, so anything that isn’t directly related to what you’re trying to demonstrate to the reader needs to go. Decide on a few key examples to use, rather than trying to discuss every point from your resume.
The easiest to fix and yet the easiest to overlook! Review your cover letter a few times – preferably letting time lapse in between reviews – to catch all typos and grammar errors.
That’s it! You’re well on your way to writing a standout cover letter. Be concise, honest, and specific, and you can’t go wrong.