A quality cover letter is your chance to make a solid first impression on a hiring manager. Cover letters allow employers to hear your voice and understand your intentions when you apply to their company. However, many job applicants think that their resume is more important, and therefore neglect their cover letter.
While it's true that employers rely on resumes to get a better idea of your skills and qualifications, crafting a thoughtful, tailored cover letter lets you introduce yourself as best as possible and helps you stand out from the crowd. Follow these seven tips from hiring experts when writing yours.
You don't want to sound like everyone else. Get personal in your letter, ensuring the hiring manager understands your talents and interests.
"One key thing we look for is whether they've incorporated aspects of their personality into examples of how they would succeed in this position," said Margaret Freel, corporate recruiter at TechSmith Corp.
Mentioning experiences that qualify you for that particular position is one way to personalize your letter, Freel added. "Candidates should be concise and self-aware enough to know how their track record of results makes them unique, and able to relate that back to the position." [Writing your resume? Follow these expert tips.]
Just like your resume, cover letters should be tailored to each position and company you apply for. Instead of a template-style cover letter, use industry-specific language that references points from the job description and company website, if applicable.
Freel advised taking the time to find out the proper contact to address it to, which is typically listed with the job posting or on the company's website. If you're still unsure who the hiring manager is, use a generic salutation – but only as a last resort.
Christa Shapiro, director at staffing firm Kforce, said one thing that always draws attention to a cover letter is mentioning why you want to be a part of that particular organization.
"It shows that you don't just want a job; you want to work for this company," Shapiro said.
If you were introduced or connected to a hiring manager by a specific employee at the company or a mutual industry contact, be sure to include that person's name in your cover letter (with their permission).
"Candidates can include referrals in a cover letter to make them stand out," said Bill Peppler, managing partner at staffing firm Kavaliro. "They should always gain permission for this before they name-drop, but the cover letter gives great opportunity to include a name of someone that can vouch for your skills."
Address potential resume concerns
A well-crafted cover letter does more than explain why you're the right person for the job. It also gives you the chance to explain items on your resume that might otherwise be considered red flags.
"Address any issues that may give a hiring manager pause, such as gaps in employment," said
Diane Domeyer, executive director of staffing firm The Creative Group.
Don't repeat your resume
While your cover letter should reference material from your resume, it shouldn't simply be a word-for-word repeat, said Jane Trnka, executive director of the Career Development Center at the Rollins College Crummer Graduate School of Business. Use the cover letter to expand where necessary and discuss your listed experiences from a different angle.
"Craft the letter to acknowledge the requirements of the role and culture of the organization, while highlighting the skills and experiences that align with the job description," Trnka told Business News Daily.
Proofread and fact-check
As with any other job application materials, it's imperative to check and double-check your cover letter for any grammatical or factual errors. Even the simplest of oversights can make a bad impression on the person reading your letter.
"If there are errors of any kind, it's a huge red flag," said Guryan Tighe, partner at Speakeasy Strategies. "This is your one opportunity to impress [the hiring manager] and show who you are. If there are typos, misspellings or formatting issues, it's generally an automatic out."
Keep it brief
Hiring managers are busy and often have hundreds of applications to sift through. Keeping your cover letter concise and to the point will improve your chances of it being read. Our sources agreed that a few paragraphs highlighting the most relevant information and work experience is the best approach to writing a cover letter.
Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.