Let’s be honest: Cover letters are the worst part of applying for a job. (Aside from the hours spent looking for one, of course.) While writing a resume is relatively straightforward — listing your responsibilities and accomplishments — writing a cover letter requires a little more personality and a lot more skill. And since this is usually the first thing a potential employer reads from you, writing a bad one simply isn’t an option. You’ve got one minute — maybe two — to self-promote enough that you make the “maybe” pile. That’s a lot of pressure.
Combine this with the ease and immediacy of applying online — which makes us a little lazy sometimes — and you need more than stellar writing to make a good impression. Here’s how to increase your chances.
This may seem like a no-brainer, but applicants frequently overlook information given by employers in job postings. And while it’s easy to miss instructions when you’ve been scouring job site after job site and skimming posting after posting, your application has to be flawlessif you want to be considered a good candidate.
Read the posting several times. Employers will usually tell you what to write in your subject line, and whether you should write your cover letter in the body of the email or attach it as a file. If it’s an attachment you’ll want to send it in the format requested by the employer, so no Word documents when they’ve asked for PDFs. In the email, write a few lines expressing your interest, explaining where you saw the posting, and what you’ve attached to the email.
If the employer hasn't included any information, it’s generally okay to write your cover letter in the body of the email and attach your resume. In terms of file types, Word documents are the most common.
Applying to several jobs? Be extra careful. There’s nothing more embarrassing than accidentally sending the wrong cover letter.
Never address your email: “Dear Sirs.”
Write this and your email immediately gets trashed. Your failure is two-fold: You haven’t researched the company you’re applying to, and you’ve assumed that the person you’re writing to is male. Even if you use the more innocuous “To Whom it May Concern,” your letter is still saying: “I’m not all that interested in working for you.”
Always address your letter (and email) to the name of the person receiving them. If you don’t know who that is, find out. Many businesses direct job applications to HR representatives via generic email addresses, but it’s not impossible to learn who handles the screening or hiring process. Write or call the company, explain you’re applying for a job, and request the name of who’s in charge. If you’re not willing to do that, you probably don’t really want the position.
Don’t use your first-ever email address. Look, we all thought we were being clever with our adolescent pseudonyms but the truth is that most employers won't hire someone who goes by “punkfan978” or “sweetbaby77xo.” These email addresses need to go down with your Livejournalaccount (if you were ever on it — I sure was) and never be seen again.
Maybe your email address isn’t as lame as the examples I’ve included. But when you’re applying for a job, you’ve got to use your real name. A straightforward email address shows employers that you're professional.
If you’re really attached to that old email address, go ahead and keep it. Just don’t use it when applying for jobs.
Be the right kind of confident. For the more humble among us, writing a cover letter can feel forced or awkward. The super-confident, on the other hand, can brag for 10 pages without feeling the slightest bit self-congratulatory.
The key to a good cover letter is walking the fine line between the two. Instead of listing everything you’ve ever done and been awesome at, highlight a few of the skills, traits, and successes that relate to your desired position. By now, hardly anyone cares about the awards you won in high school. (But good on you!)
Make your language strong by avoiding the passive voice and never choosing a long word when a short one will do — “use” not “utilize.”Overly complex or long letters tend to be dry and complicated and any employer won’t get past the first few lines.
Use keywords! Many emails and letters are run through databases to find the best candidates. So if a posting requires that you be a “fast learner,” include that in your letter.
Proofread. Proofread. Proofread.
Just about every article ever about cover letters asks you to proofread, but I'm doing it again because it's important. Even the best of us make mistakes, so proofreading is always necessary. Everything is so quick and easy on the Internet that it’s tempting to just hit ‘Send’ and be on your way.
Don't do it. Typos, misspellings, poor grammar, and other egregious errors can get your application deleted after one glance. I know many employers who won’t continue reading after one typo. So check it again and again. And one more time after that. (As a test, see if you can find the typo in the above paragraph – Editor.)
If your brain is dulled by hours of writing and job hunting, take a break. Save the email as a draft, leave your computer, and come back to it with fresh eyes. If you’re not skilled in spelling and grammar, have someone else read it for you. As long as you’re not applying on the application deadline (and you’re not, right?) there’s no need to rush.