201 Killer Cover Letters

You’ve found the perfect job , your resume and references are all lined up and ready to go, and now there’s just one thing standing between you and hitting “send” on the application: the dreaded cover letter.

Very few people actually enjoy writing cover letters (and if you do, please share your secrets). Even if you know the basics (one page, 4-6 paragraphs), it can be tough to dissect what, exactly, an employer is looking for and how to translate that into a few hundred glowing words.

But not only are cover letters inevitable, they’re also extremely important—it’s the only space you have outside your resume to make a good first impression . So if you want to land the job, you should be giving that letter the attention it deserves. Follow these tips, and make your next cover letter stand out from the rest of the stack.

1. Be All About Them

A career counselor once said to me, “say not what the company can do for you, say what you can do for the company.” Although you certainly want to explain why you’re interested in a position, it’s best to spend the majority of your letter describing how you will be an asset to the company.

Even when you talk about why you’re pursuing the job, word it in a way that highlights your passion for what the organization does. If you say, “I’ve been engaged in this field for four years through my experiences in…,” that’ll sound much better than, “this would be a great step for my career.” After all, they’re not hiring you to help you out—they’re hiring you to help them out .

2. Be a Copycat

While I know that you have ample accomplishments and abilities—and want to share them all with everyone —not every experience is going to be relevant to every position. So how do you know what to keep and what to put on the chopping block?

Here’s the secret: When employers create a job description, it’s essentially a checklist of the things they’re looking for in an employee. So, in your cover letter, you want to tick off as many of those checkboxes as possible.

In order to make it easy for an employer to see that you have what they’re looking for, mimic the job description—not word for word, of course, but by finding the things that the company is looking for and highlighting specific examples of how you have them. This will help you focus on credentials that are really important—and help the employer focus on why you’re the perfect match for the job.

3. Be Skill-Focused

Most people have a resume that’s structured around the jobs they’ve held, rather than their skills . So turn your letter into an opportunity to highlight on 2-4 of your relevant abilities . Structure each paragraph around one of the skills you’ve chosen to highlight, then write 2-3 sentences about how your experiences specifically showcase them.

Again, you don’t need to worry about covering everything, or even necessarily about being chronological. With this strategy, you’ll avoid repeating your resume—making the most of the space you have in your cover letter, and not wasting the time of your potential employer.

4. Be Specific

Just like your resume , you want your letter to get very specific when you talk about your accomplishments. Give them facts, figures, and numbers. Tell them how much money you raised, how many people you organized, and just how big and impressive your accomplishments are. (The only caveat to this: If your numbers aren’t really large enough to impress the company, leave them out.)

5. Be Yourself

When you’re writing your cover letter, remember that the hiring manager is likely going to be reading a lot of them (and she probably doesn’t really enjoy reading them much more than you like writing them). So, while you want to make the letter professional, you also want to put some of your own personality in it.

You shouldn’t ever step over the line of professionalism , but crafting an engaging letter with some color will catch people’s eyes and make them think, “wow, this would be a fun person to work with.” And that might be just enough to set you apart from all the other qualified applicants out there.

The good news is, the more you write, the easier it becomes. And while you may never list writing cover letters as one of your favorite activities, with these tips and a little bit of work, you’ll be on your way to writing great letters—and more importantly, landing those interviews .

Check out more from Job Search Month at The Daily Muse!

Photo courtesy of Macinate .

“Thanks for helping me customize my resume,” my friend said cheerily. “Now I just have to find the cover letter I used for my last job application and spruce it up a little.”

“Nooooooo!” I said. “There’s no point in taking all that time to tailor your resume to each application if you’re going to use a fill-in-the-blank cover letter.”

We ended up sitting together for another 30 minutes and coming up with a new one that highlighted what a great fit she was—not just for the role, but for the company. And while a half hour is a time investment, it’s absolutely worth it if it gets you the job. (Which my friend did.)

Wondering how to customize your own cover letter? Check out the cover letter template below.

In Your Salutation

Most job seekers already know this, but just in case: You should always address your cover letter to a specific person. It shows you’re willing to do your research. Plus, seeing “Dear John Doe” will impress the person reading it (even if he or she is not John Doe) much more than “To whom it may concern” will.

If the job posting doesn’t include a name, look up the company’s hiring manager. No luck? Search for the person in charge of the department to which you’re applying. If you’re still striking out, try these advanced techniques.

In Your Opening Paragraph

The first section of your cover letter is the perfect opportunity to tell the hiring manager you understand what makes this organization and job special. I like to start with:

I am excited to apply for [job title].

Then I launch into my explanation.

For example:

I am excited to apply for the Sales Analyst position. TravelClick has become a leader in the hospitality industry by always focusing on its clients—whether they’re huge global brands or local hotels. Your commitment to customer satisfaction is something I’ve always strived for in my own career. I’d love to bring this dedication, along with my relevant skills and experience, to your award-winning company.

If you’re having trouble with this section, look through the company’s site, social media profiles, employee LinkedIn accounts, and so on to focus in on the key reasons you want this job and would be good at it. Sure, we all need a salary, but you should be able to explain why you’re enthusiastic about this opportunity in particular. (Oh, and make sure you’re describing how you can help the company, rather than how the company can help you!)

For even more ideas, check out these 31 cover letter examples of attention-grabbing intros.

In Your Body Paragraphs

Your next two paragraphs should describe your most relevant previous roles, the skills you’ve learned and experiences you’ve gotten from them, and how you’d apply those skills and insight to this position. I know, that sounds a little scary, so let’s break it down.

Format

The first line is super simple:

During [time period], I worked as [job title] for [company name].

In your next couple sentences, talk about the specific responsibilities you had in that role that are the closest to the responsibilities you’d have in this job.

As [job title], I was responsible for [Task 1, Task 2, and Task 3].

Or:

In this role, I worked on several projects, including [Project 1, Project 2, and Project 3].

Now, it’s important not to regurgitate your resume here; rather, you want to take the most relevant experiences from your resume, expand on them, and describe why they’re so applicable for the job.

It’s even more important to bring it home in your last one or two lines by discussing how you’d use what you learned from those experiences in this position.

Here’s the whole thing:

For the past three years, I’ve been working as a technical product manager for Blue Duck, where I’ve developed more than 30 high-level features that incorporated client requests, user needs, and design and product team capabilities with deadline and budget demands. Balancing so many needs was often challenging, and I learned how to find the solution that satisfied the maximum number of stakeholders. As your product manager, I’d apply this knowledge to ensure we delivered innovative solutions that worked for our customers and their users while staying on-time and within budget.

Choosing Your Examples

Wondering how you know which jobs and qualifications to highlight?

Your current or most recent position should usually be in your cover letter (unless it was for a very short time period, or it’s not at all similar to the one you’re applying for). To find your second example, go back to the job description and highlight the three things they’re asking for that seem most important—as in, you couldn’t get hired if you didn’t have them. Maybe that’s familiarity with a niche field, or great writing abilities, or leadership talent.

Whatever three things you highlight, make sure they’re reflected in your cover letter. Choose the job experience where you utilized those traits. And if you don’t have the exact skill they’re looking for, use the closest example you have.

In Your Closing

Most people use their closing paragraph to essentially say, “Thanks for reading, looking forward to hearing back.” But that’s a waste of valuable real estate! Just like the rest of your cover letter, your closing should be personalized.

First, if you want to proactively answer a potential concern, here’s a good place to do it. Let’s say you’re currently living in Atlanta, but you want to work in Portland. End with one sentence explaining that you’re moving, such as “I am relocating to Portland in May and look forward to working in the city.” This line shows your reader you fully read the job description, and that location (or relocation) won’t be an issue.

Perhaps you’re not quite qualified for the position. You should never say, “I know I’m not as qualified as other candidates, but…” However, you can say, “My background in [industry or profession], combined with my passion for your company and this role, would make me uniquely qualified to tackle [specific responsibility].” Ending on a strong note and highlighting why your unexpected experience is actually an asset will put the hiring manager’s mind at ease. (More on that here.)

Alternatively, you can use your closing to reinforce your strong interest in the job.

For example, you could write:

Again, TravelClick’s focus on customer service has made a huge impression on me. I would be thrilled to work at an organization where every employee—from an intern to the CEO—cares so much about the people they help.

Thank you for your time,

Aja Frost



There’s no arguing that it takes longer to compose a custom cover letter for each application than just changing out the company names in a canned one. But if you care about getting the job (and I hope you do, since you’re taking the time to apply for it), personalizing each one is the way to go.

Photo of typing courtesy of Shutterstock.

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