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Build Your Career Get the Job

8 Tips for Writing a Great Cover Letter

8 Tips for Writing a Great Cover Letter
Credit: Gonzalo Aragon/Shutterstock

Hiring managers sometimes have hundreds of cover letters and resumes to sift through for a single job post. Potential employees only have a few seconds to make a good first impression, and a boring cover letter could land them straight in the "no pile."

Cover letters allow employers to hear your voice, understand your intentions and learn about your personality. Hiring managers want to know why your skills and personality are a right fit for the company and a successful cover letter should do this. 

Follow these eight tips from hiring experts if you want to write a cover letter that will score you an interview.

You don't want to sound like everyone else. Give hiring managers a sense of your personality and how you might fit into the company.

"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.  Instead of a template-style cover letter, use industry-specific language that references points from the job description and company website.

Do your research and find out who the hiring manager is, and address the cover letter to them. While this isn't always possible, addressing the hiring manager specifically sets you apart. If you're unsure who the hiring manager is, use a generic salutation – but only as a last resort.

"Address the cover letter to a specific person within the company, not the general – and much hated – 'Dear sir or madam,'" said Alina Cincan, managing director and co-founder of Inbox Translation. "This shows the candidate has done some research and is truly interested in working with that company, not just any company."

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. Show a passion for the organization and industry – employers don't want to hire someone will not care about their work.

Hiring managers aren't going to finish reading your cover letter if they are bored after the first line. A strong intro should highlight experiences, years of work or something specific from the job posting, suggested Chaz Pitts-Kyser, founder and author of Careeranista.

"Hiring managers often pay even less attention to cover letters than they do resumes, so having something more than 'I am applying for the position and such and such in your first paragraph is key," she told Business News Daily.

Another way you can make your cover letter pop is including a brief story that connects you to the company through its mission and/or product. "This exercise will undoubtedly separate you from the majority of other candidates," said Kenneth Johnson, president of East Coast Executives.

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."

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.

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.

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 smallest mistake 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."

Hiring managers are busy and usually have a lot of applications to look at. Keeping your cover letter concise and to the point will improve your chances of it being read and makes the hiring manager's job easier – which is always a good thing.

"The best cover letters can concise, friendly and transparent," said Chris Wood, president at Paige Technologies. "The best cover letters get right to the heart of why we are a great fit for them, and why they are the best fit for us."

Additional reporting by Nicole Fallon, Sammi Caramela and Brittney Morgan. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

Saige Driver

Saige Driver graduated from Ball State University in 2015 with a degree in journalism. She started her career at a radio station in Indiana, and is currently a B2B staff writer at Business News Daily. She loves reading and her beagle mix, Millie. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.