As a member of The Hired Guns’ talent agent team, I sift through hundreds of cover letters daily. Almost all are bad. There are a few extreme examples; one cover letter featured photos of the candidate on horseback, while another was 27 pages long. Most cover letters, however, are generic, poorly written, or simply ineffective.
Applying to a job with a bad cover letter actually does you more harm than applying with no cover letter at all. So how do you make sure that your pitch does you more good than harm? Start with these five cover letter tips.
What Do Recruiters Look For In an Effective Cover Letter?
1. Keep it brief
Your cover letter’s one and only job is to entice a reader into reading your resume. That means that you need to be succinct and entice the reader into learning more. Cramming your entire life story into your cover letter will cause your reader to lose interest immediately. As for what you should include…
2. Keep the content simple and relevant
Start by introducing yourself and expressing interest in the specific role at hand. Follow that up with two to three brief sentences detailing why you would make a good fit. Then include two or three accomplishments that speak to ability to succeed in the role. Follow that up with a few sentences detailing your interest in the company. In your final paragraph, invite them to review your resume and contact you at their earliest convenience. A good way to think about this is the “3 and 3” format: three paragraphs and three accomplishments for each cover letter. For a more in-depth how-to on cover letter content, check out How to Write an Effective Cover Letter.
3. Make an ask!
At least half of the cover letters I read fail to actually request an interview. Some of the ones that do request an interview do so with phrases like “if you feel like I might be a fit” or “I hope to hear from you.” These don’t exactly inspire confidence. Separate yourself from the pack by closing your cover letter with an assertive statement like, “Once you have reviewed my resume, please contact me to set up a personal interview.” It will make a difference every time.
4. Personalization is key
Recruiters can spot a generic, one-size-fits-all cover letter from a mile away. These end up in the virtual trashcan, along with the candidates’ chances of landing the job. Make sure each cover letter you send speaks to the specific position and company at hand. This means actually writing new content for each cover letter. Mention the company name, and be sure to point out how your skills and experience can benefit their particular business. Avoid using “To whom it may concern” whenever possible. Some quick research will turn up a name 90% of the time.
Yes, you’ve heard this one before. And yes, you proofread your cover letters. But proofread them again. Then have an acquaintance proofread it. Once that email is sent, there is no going back. It would be a shame to blow an exciting opportunity because of a typo you made while talking about your attention to detail.
Think of your cover letter like a movie trailer. The best ones — the ones that actually make you want to see the movie — pique your interest with a few juicy highlights without giving away too much of the actual plot. They’re short. They’re punchy. They dangle the promise of “more where that came from.” With these tips, your next cover letter will make a recruiter more than happy to pay the ticket price.