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How to Write a Cover Letter that Gets You Noticed (In a Good Way)

June 21, 2010


Photo via Lopolis

Often a cover letter is your one and only chance to make a first impression with an employer. Do you want to say “I’m a competent professional that deserves a job with your company” or “I only know how to write run on sentence so please hire me k thanks bye?”

You don’t necessarily have to be a great writer to write a great cover letter. Instead, you need to be able to express yourself clearly and communicate your skills in a way that speaks to your potential employer. Read on for tips on exactly how to do that.

Tailor it to the Job

While I understand it’s difficult to write a unique cover letter for every single position you apply for, avoid shooting off a form letter that you simply fill in the blank with the name of the company. It’s obvious to the employer, it comes off as lazy, and won’t make much of an impression. Instead, create a basic template and nuance it for every position you apply for. Pick out one detail in the job posting and reference it in your letter. For example, try throwing something like this sentence into the mix; “As a successful service provider for five years now, I can understand why you list “patience” in the qualifications section of your job posting.”

Proofread, Proofrede, Proofreed

No joke – I once submitted a cover letter stating I worked at a prestigious “pubic relations” firm. Talk about embarrassing. Avoid pitfalls like this and go over your cover letter with a fine tooth comb, paying close attention to commonly misspelled words and potentially embarrassing blunders. And under no circumstances should you misspell the name of the company. Triple check for these and other typos, including formatting and spacing, to make sure your letter is consistent and error-free. Anything less won’t even be considered by an employer. Oh, and you should definitely PDF your Word document for that uber-professional edge.

Get to the Point

Save the colloquial details for your interview. Your cover letter is not the place to dish about what you  learned in college or how you grew since graduation. It’s about what you actually did. Kindly introduce yourself, and launch into your tangible accomplishments. Employers are flooded with applications and don’t have time to waste trying to find the point in yours.

Elaborate

Bad cover letter sentence; “For three years in a row, I served as the Editor of my college’s newspaper where I worked very hard, produced great results, and even won a prestigious award.”

Good cover letter sentence; “As Editor of Washington University’s student newspaper, I oversaw a staff of 12 contributing writers whose work I meticulously proofread, supervised and managed over a three-year period. My detail-oriented and deadline-driven attitude earned me the title of ‘Most Valuable Staffer’ two years-straight as awarded by the Dean.”

Don’t be bashful. Now is the time to brag about yourself and your accomplishments, so dive in and let your potential employer know just how awesome you really are.

Humanize it with Humor

Depending on the position you’re applying for, you may have an opportunity to showcase your sense of humor in your cover letter. This will help you stand out and may even give your reader a much-needed chuckle after reading so many boring submissions. For example, try something like the following; “In the job posting you list ‘multi-tasking’ as a desired qualification. I’ll have you know that as I type this, I have a pot roast baking in the oven, a load of laundry in the dryer, and a coat of paint drying in my bathroom.”

Be Enthusiastic

Never, ever bad mouth your current employer or past work experiences. Doing so will paint you as unprofessional rather than a team player. Avoid negativity of any kind at all costs and show an uplifting confidence in yourself and your ability to handle the job.

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What?! Your cover letter scored you an interview? Nice work! Read my 14 ways to nail a job interview for help acing the next step in your application process.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Alison permalink
    July 23, 2010 2:36 pm

    I stumbled on your blog via the art project from new domestic 🙂 This posting is a huge help to me… I just finished my master’s program and am looking for a job in a competitive market. I am so bad about writing about myself!

    • Holley Simmons permalink*
      July 24, 2010 8:54 am

      I’m so happy you found this helpful! Good luck with the job search and read my interview tips once you get to the next step! xo

  2. Tracy permalink
    August 24, 2010 7:15 am

    I like Alison came here from the New Domestic and I am glad I did. Thank you so much for this wonderful and timely blog post.

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