By Paul Flagg, MLIS and Former Writing Consultant
If you’re really serious about getting that dream job or pursuing any opportunity for which a cover letter might be necessary, your application needs to stand out. The cover letter is a crucial document to your application that allows you to expand on pertinent information that may be too detailed to include elsewhere. It should be not only memorable but well-written and professional as well. Applying for jobs can be a monotonous and intimidating experience, but crafting an effective cover letter can make all the difference and even simplify the application process.
Do your homework. Learn about the business or organization to whom you are writing. Include the proper identifying information for the person to whom you are sending your application, such as their name and title as well as the name and address of the organization. To further show that you’ve done your research, discuss relevant information about the organization that shows you have a genuine interest in becoming part of the team, or write about how your goals align with the mission or vision of that organization.
Customize your application. Tailor your cover letter to each job you’re applying for. Pull keywords, job duties, and responsibilities from the job ad or position description. Use action verbs to highlight your strengths, add interest to your cover letter, and ultimately convey that you can fulfill the job requirements.
Make it interesting. Discuss one or two relevant projects or experiences that will separate you from other applicants while also showing your individuality, commitment, and interest in the company or position. Clarity and concision are crucial as is making your cover letter compelling for your reader.
Proofread. Always double-check your work. It can be so easy to overlook minor details in a cover letter as it is in any piece of writing, and you don’t want this to be the reason your application is rejected. Ensure that the names, titles, degrees, places, addresses, contact information, etc., are spelled correctly.
Be positive. Never highlight your negative attributes or discuss any shortcomings that may prevent you from being qualified for the position you’re applying; it’ll only sound like you’re trying to make excuses for yourself.
Be professional. This isn’t a personal email, a text message, or a written conversation with a friend. Write professionally. Use contractions sparingly, avoid exclamation points, don’t use slang, and NEVER use ALL CAPS!
Don’t overuse “I.” One of my favorite college professors—a public relations guru—always said that if she received an application with a cover letter that used the word “I” more than three times, she would immediately discard it. Now, this isn’t necessarily a rule that all hiring managers apply, but keeping this idea in mind can help you to become more aware of how self-centered any document written in first person can potentially read. We know your cover letter is about you and that you want to tell us about yourself, but you need to do this in a way that ties you to the organization and addresses how hiring you can create a mutually beneficial relationship. Yes, you do have things to offer, but the organization has something to offer you in return. Keep an eye out for the “I”s.
Include a greeting. As mentioned before, do your research and try your best to find out the direct contact you’ll be sending your application to. “Dear” or “To” preceding the name should suffice. Generally, if you don’t have the contact name, you want to avoid the cliché phrase “To Whom It May Concern” and, instead, use “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Human Resources Representative.” At the end, it is safest to conclude with a succinct and professional “Sincerely,” rather than a more intimate phrase like “Yours Truly” or “Best Wishes.”
Additional Cover Letter Resources
- Cover Letter Handout, USF Writing Studio — http://www.lib.usf.edu/writing/files/2011/06/Cover-Letters1.pdf
- Cover Letter Workshop, Purdue Online Writing Lab — https://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/723/1/
- “Cover Letters Are Hard To Write—But This Template Makes It A Breeze,” Forbes — https://www.forbes.com/sites/dailymuse/2015/07/24/cover-letters-are-hard-to-write-but-this-template-makes-it-a-breeze/#320b2a9a184a
- Sample Cover Letters, Harvard Law School — http://hls.harvard.edu/dept/opia/job-search-toolkit/sample-cover-letters/