What are three ways to make a cover letter stand out? – Sammy M., Washington, DC
Cover letters are a great way to showcase why you’re the best person for the job, but it’s easy to write a bad one. Here are three things to keep in mind:
1. Your cover letter is not your resume.
Don’t waste space by repeating what’s on your resume. Instead, expand on key responsibilities and accomplishments in your previous roles. What hard and soft skills have you been able to master that aren’t obvious on your resume? What did you learn about yourself and your work preferences? Make sure to connect everything back to why you’re a great fit for the position you’re applying for.
2. Personalize your letter as much as possible.
Do some research and find the name of the person who will be reviewing your application. If you can’t find it or are unsure how to address someone, call the organization and ask. This may seem mortifying, but you’ll be more mortified if the “Mr. Jordan Gray” you sent your application is actually “Dr. Jordan Gray,” a woman with a PhD in Economics. As a last resort, address it to the hiring manager or search committee for the specific position you’re applying to.
Stay away from fluffy buzzwords. They don’t say much about you and will make the hiring manager roll their eyes. Everyone calls themselves a “team player” and a “people person.” Explain why and how you deserve those labels instead: “I directed 50+ calls per hour to 5 other people on my team, as well as taking them myself. This year, I won the Shout-Out Award for being the most frequently named staff member in customer surveys for exemplary service.”
3. Keep it short.
There’s a lot you can say in a cover letter, but don’t exceed a page. (The majority of hiring managers would prefer if you kept your cover letter to just half a page.) If the application format or job post specifies a certain length for your cover letter, make sure you follow those instructions. They’ll definitely weed out the people who don’t.
If your cover letter is too long, you may be trying to say too much. Pare your accomplishments down to the three most impressive ones. Don’t forget to take out sentences with information that’s elsewhere on your application, like “My name is John Smith. I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Finance in May 2016.”
Cut out passive voice and adverbs as much as possible, which make your sentences longer and weaken the impact of your words. Online tools like Hemingway can pinpoint these issues, but make sure you have a real person look over your cover letter, too. They’ll also be able to help you spot fluffy buzzwords that you should either get rid of or re-work into stronger statements.