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Top 50 Cover Letter Tips

by Teena Rose - 03/25/2021
"50Cover Letter Tips"
Cover Letter Tip #1: Always include a cover letter.

Even if it isn’t stated specifically in an ad or mentioned in conversation, an employer likely wishes to see a cover letter accompanying your resume. Few employers will take a serious look at a candidate who doesn’t write one. Think of the cover letter as your chance to sell yourself. A resume is a fairly generic listing of what you’ve done, but the cover letter lets you tailor your skills and abilities to the specific job. That and your resume are all an employer uses to decide whether to move you along in the employment process.

Cover Letter Tip #2: Cover letters are a snapshot of you as a potential employee.

The importance of first impressions is clear when it comes to cover letters. In just a few paragraphs, you must present your personality, your communication skills, your attention to detail and, most importantly, your interest in that specific company and your qualifications for the job. A good cover letter will convince the employer that you could be the right person for the job. A poorly-written cover letter – or worse yet, no cover letter at all – sends the message that you aren’t quite professional enough to meet the company’s needs.

Cover Letter Tip #3: A cover letter sets you apart from the other applicants.

A resume by itself has limitations, telling the employer little about your professional interests and qualifications. A cover letter helps you highlight specific aspects of your experience that qualify you for the position. Consider this: If an employer has a large number of applicants to review, he or she may take only 20 seconds to look over each letter. By knowing what is useful to the employer and calling attention to that in your cover letter, you help him or her quickly answer the question, “Why should I hire this person?”

Cover Letter Tip #4: Don’t use a form letter.

You can find many books, websites and other guides with hundreds of sample cover letters. Use them as a starting point to help you get ideas for format and content, but don’t copy them. Write your cover letter in your own words so it has your voice, not that of some unknown author. Take the time to research the company and convey your own enthusiasm for the job. A bland, generic cover letter says that you didn’t care enough about the position or the employer to expend any effort creating a specific and detailed letter.

Cover Letter Tip #5: Cover letters should be actual letters.

A cover letter is supposed to be brief, readable and professional. A fax cover sheet or a handwritten note can never substitute for a cover letter if you want an employer to view you as a serious potential employee. The ideal cover letter will be four to five paragraphs long, with each paragraph consisting of maybe three or four sentences. It is always typed, never handwritten. Keep in mind, too, that “less is more.” Your letter should never be more than one page in length. Write clearly and concisely, and stay focused in each paragraph.

Cover Letter Tip #6: Don’t tell your life history or repeat your resume.

A cover letter is nothing more than a sales tool designed to pique an employer’s interest in you. Focus on the parts of your resume that are relevant to the position – the qualifications that best help an employer decide why you should be hired for the job. Including irrelevant information, even if you think it makes you seem more impressive, wastes valuable space. If you’ve written an effective cover letter, the employer will want to take more time to read through your resume and learn about the things you left out.

Cover Letter Tip #7: Set the proper tone for your employment history.

If you are currently employed, you don’t need to explain in the cover letter why you are looking for a new job – you’ll have time to do that in the interview. If there is a gap in your employment history, give a brief explanation of the reason so that the employer isn’t left wondering; again, you can elaborate in the interview. No matter what your current job status, though, don’t come across as desperate. Be enthusiastic about why you want this job and why you are the perfect fit for the employer.

Cover Letter Tip #8: Humor has no place in cover letters.

Leave humor out of the cover letter, even if you’re applying to be a stand-up comic. Many people think that relating a funny anecdote or turning a humorous phrase will help show off their personality, but these attempts will likely fail. You have no idea whether the employer shares your sense of humor, and what you think is funny may be offensive to someone else. The cover letter is supposed to demonstrate your ability to conduct business professionally. Save the hilarity until you’re hired, when you can better assess your coworkers’ tolerance for humor.

Cover Letter Tip #9: Creativity doesn’t earn extra points with the employer.

Unless the job is totally based on creativity – and even then, be cautious – don’t monkey around with the basic cover letter. Using stick figures to illustrate your previous jobs or decorating your cover letter with graphics may seem like it will set your letter apart from all the other applicants, but it usually ends up looking unprofessional. Most employers will tell you that a basic, well-crafted letter is much more impressive than a “creative” one. Don’t let anything distract the employer from the skills and qualifications that will help you get hired.

Cover Letter Tip #10: Gimmicks hurt, not help, your cover letter.

Some applicants are inspired to create new and different cover “letters” –printing it on a full-size picture of themselves, for example, or videotaping their letter, or creating a computer presentation complete with graphics and music. Gimmicks like these can easily backfire and go right into the trash can. Most employers want to hire people who are professional in their business dealings and who can communicate well. Nothing highlights this more than a well-written cover letter. Make your best impression on the employer immediately by using a traditional, formal, printed cover letter and resume.

Cover Letter Tip #11: Don’t make demands.

Your cover letter should show what you can do for the employer, not what he or she can do for you. Making demands can put the employer on the defensive. If you are not able to work Wednesday evenings or need time off to take care of an elderly parent, don’t mention it in the cover letter. Those kinds of preferences can be discussed further in the job interview. When an employer is enthusiastic about your skills and qualifications, he or she is more likely to work with you to meet any reasonable needs you might have.

Cover Letter Tip #12: Don’t include personal information.

Unless it directly pertains to the job, don’t include personal details about your age, weight, marital status, race, religion, personal interests, hobbies, etc. They take up valuable space that would be better spent detailing your skills and qualifications. When might that information be appropriate? If you were seeking a job with an athletic league, mentioning that you organized a neighborhood basketball tournament could be helpful; if you were applying for a position with a senior organization, mentioning your age might be useful. Use your best judgment, and ask someone whose opinion you respect if you’re unsure.

Cover Letter Tip #13: Refer to yourself in the first person.

Your resume is a straightforward listing of your skills, employment history and other qualifications, but you don’t want to take the same tone in your cover letter. Referring to yourself in the first person (using the word “I”) is preferable. Some applicants may think that choosing the third person makes a cover letter stand out, but in reality this approach can be disconcerting to the person reading it. “I have written advertising copy for more than 10 years” is much stronger than “John Doe has written advertising copy for more than 10 years.”

Cover Letter Tip #14: Use words that are meaningful to the job, but avoid unfamiliar terms.

Using key words and phrases that are pertinent to the industry or to the specific company can show that you’ve done your homework. Don’t use them, though, unless you really understand what they mean. That holds true for any word or phrase that you include just to sound impressive or intelligent. It’s too easy to make mistakes that will embarrass you or give the employer the sense that you are arrogant and self-important. Either way, your cover letter and resume will likely get relegated to the trash can.

Cover Letter Tip #15: Avoid clichés and too much technical jargon.

Fill your cover letter with clichés and you’ll definitely sound bland and insincere. An employer receives hundreds of letters from people who “think outside the box” and “go the extra mile.” Your original thoughts will get the message across much better than tired, overused phrases. Use technical jargon judicially, too. You don’t know whether the person reading your letter is the head of engineering or a human resources specialist who might have no idea what you’re talking about. Pick a few key words that highlight your knowledge of the industry or the position.

Cover Letter Tip #16: Be realistic about your worth to the company.

The cover letter should give the employer an understanding of who you are, what you’ve done and what you can contribute to the company – not make it sound like you walk on water. State your skills and qualifications in a simple yet straightforward manner. Don’t forget that the employer is forming an impression of you as a person as well as a potential employee. Be careful not to send a message that he or she would be foolish not to hire you. No one wants to work with someone who is pretentious or arrogant.

Cover Letter Tip #17: Be honest about your qualifications.

Never, never, never misrepresent yourself at any point in the job search. Many companies conduct background checks on potential employees, and it’s easier than you might think to discover inaccuracies. If you’ve been dishonest about your qualifications, you’re likely to be dismissed as soon as it’s discovered. Sticking to the facts is the best possible course of action. State your achievements and don’t be modest – after all, who else will let the employer know? But don’t lie or exaggerate. Let what you’ve done speak for itself. The interview will give you a chance to elaborate.

Cover Letter Tip #18: Don’t emphasize your weaknesses.

It might be tempting to call attention to something that might not be a good fit, in the belief that bringing it up lets you deal with potential employer objections. Statements like “Even though I don’t have any related experience…” or “I may not have the educational background you seek…” have no place in a cover letter. Don’t emphasize your flaws. Instead, point out all of your strengths – skills, experience, knowledge of the company, and so on. An employer might take a chance on someone who’s lacking in one area if they meet all other criteria.

Cover Letter Tip #19: Use action words, not wimpy phrases.

Your cover letter should show that you are strong, capable and enthusiastic. Use action verbs, not the passive voice, as often as you can. For example, instead of writing “I was the Department Supervisor,” write “I supervised a staff of six people.” You can find a list of action verbs on the Internet. Also avoid using phrases like “I feel” or "I believe." Stronger qualifiers such as “I am positive” or “I know” convey determination and spirit. Select words that demonstrate your abilities and show your enthusiasm -- and your passion -- for your work.

Cover Letter Tip #20: Talk about what you can do for the employer, not what he or she can do for you.

Most employers are in business to make a profit. They want to know what you can do to help them make that profit, not how they can fulfill your personal career goals. Write about how you can increase sales or fulfill the organization’s mission or help streamline shipping. Employers aren’t cruel and heartless, but they really don’t need to know that you have “always wanted to work in this industry” or that you’re “looking for a position that will fulfill your dreams.”

Cover Letter Tip #21: Research the industry.

Don’t even start writing your cover letter until you’ve spent some time in research, beginning with the industry in which you want to work. Knowing some basic information about the industry will help you write cover letters for any job within that industry, with a simple tweaking to add a specific employer reference. Check out the Internet or your local library for websites, trade newspapers and industry magazines, and learn about key business trends, popular terms, technological developments and current business news. This will give you background information that you can then tailor to each specific company.

Cover Letter Tip #22: Research the company.

You want your potential employer to know that you contacted them for a reason – their business is where you want to work. Research the needs, values and goals of the company. Who are its major clients? What is its history? What trends can you identify in product lines or acquisitions? This information helps you sell yourself in terms of how you can add value to the company … and it shows that you took the time to learn a bit more about them before applying. Be sure to verify any information you include in your cover letter.

Cover Letter Tip #23: Be sincere, not overly flattering, when you’re talking about the company.

When you discuss in your cover letter why you’re interested in working for a company, be sincere and specific. General flattering statements just waste valuable space and send the message that you didn’t bother to take the time to do your research. Point to something specific that impresses you about the company. “XYZ Corporation’s product line, especially the ACME 3000, presents an intriguing opportunity for any engineer” is much better sounding to an employer than “This is the best company ever and I’ve always dreamed of working for you.”

Cover Letter Tip #24: Format your cover letter properly.

A cover letter is formal business correspondence. It should be typed or printed (never handwritten) in paragraph form and should not be longer than a page. Set your margins for one inch on all four sides. Use an easy-to-read 12-point font such as Times New Roman or Arial. Print the cover letter on good quality white or ivory bond paper that matches your resume. Never use personal stationery, colored paper or typing paper, and don’t dress up the paper with “loud” borders or inappropriate graphics. Those “extras” tend to distract someone from the content of your letter.

Cover Letter Tip #25: Tailor your letter to the specific company and to the specific position you seek.

An employer won’t read a cover letter that looks like it was sent to every company in the industry. Be sure you both specify the position you’re seeking (or if it’s a generic inquiry letter, the type of work you want to do) and include details that show your knowledge about the company and how you can meet its needs. An employer wants to see applicants with a real interest in the company, enthusiasm, and proper qualifications. You can’t communicate that in a generic cover letter.

Cover Letter Tip #26: Ideally, address your letter to the person who will hire you.

Try to find out the name and title of the person who will make the hiring decision, and address the letter specifically to that person. Often you can call the company’s human resources or personnel department and ask for that information, or just ask the receptionist. The library, phone book or Internet can also be helpful. If you can’t find anything out, then a salutation such as “Dear Hiring Manager” is better than the generic “To whom it may concern.” Be sure to spell the name and title correctly.

Cover Letter Tip #27: Be formal in your salutation, and avoid sexist titles.

Never address your letter using “Dear Sirs” or “Gentlemen.” Always use the formal name of the person, along with their job title, in the address block, and use the appropriate form of address and last name in the salutation (Ms., Mr., Dr., Professor, etc.). Don’t use “Miss” or “Mrs.” unless you have received some type of correspondence from the person and can see in writing which form of address they prefer. Always use “Ms.” unless you are absolutely certain she prefers something else.

Cover Letter Tip #28: Start your cover letter properly.

Follow proper business letter formatting. In the header, place your address, preferred telephone number (lean towards your personal phone, avoid publishing a company number), and email address, in that order. Skip a handful of lines, and then place the date of the letter with the full name, job title and address of the person to whom you are sending the letter, in that order, bumped up against the left margin. If absolutely necessary, address the letter to “Hiring Manager” or “Recruiting Coordinator.” Skip a line or two and write your salutation, using the appropriate form of address and the person’s last name followed by a semicolon.

Cover Letter Tip #29: The first paragraph should tell who you are and why you are writing.

The sole purpose of your first paragraph is to tell the reader who you are and why you are writing. (That’s why so many letters begin “I am writing to…”.) Mention the specific position you are applying for or the type of job you are seeking if this is not responding to an ad. This is also the place for you to briefly reference something you know about the company, establishing that you’ve done your homework and spent some time learning about the company and its needs.

Cover Letter Tip #30: Make that first paragraph worth reading.

Every line of your cover letter is important, but none more so than the first paragraph. A boring, generic first paragraph is almost guaranteed to make an employer move on to the next letter. Grab his or her attention right away with a few well-crafted sentences that tell why you are interested in this particular company and summarize your qualifications (which you’ll expand on in the rest of the letter). If you intrigue the employer at the start, he or she is much more likely to read the rest of your letter and resume.

Cover Letter Tip #31: Tailor the first paragraph to the purpose of your cover letter.

If you are responding to a job advertisement, you’ll want to indicate in your first paragraph the specific title of the position and how you learned about it. Because you know more about the job, you can really hone in on how well you match its qualifications. If you are writing a letter inquiring about possible job openings, you’ll want to state the specific type of job you’re seeking. Since this is an unsolicited letter, it’s even more important to sell yourself as a good fit for the company.

Cover Letter Tip #32: Tell how you found out about the position, especially if you can drop names.

In the first paragraph, mention how you learned about the position or organization, especially if responding to an ad posting. If you found out about the position from someone who works at the company, by all means mention it – in fact, that should be your lead-off sentence (i.e. “John Smith suggested I contact you about the opening in the human resources department.”). If you use someone in the company this way, be sure to send him or her a copy of your cover letter and resume.

Cover Letter Tip #33: The second paragraph should list your qualifications.

Use the second paragraph of your cover letter to describe your skills and qualifications for the position you’re seeking. Highlight the items on your resume that are relevant to the position. Don’t mention details that don’t apply to either the job or the company, no matter how impressive you think they may be. Don’t forget to include examples of leadership skills, communication abilities and accomplishments. Be as specific as possible and use examples if needed. This paragraph allows the employer to begin forming an opinion of you as a dynamic, hard-working, motivated individual.

Cover Letter Tip #34: The third paragraph should show why you are a good fit with the company.

Use the third paragraph of your cover letter to show why you are a good match for the position and how you will add value to the company. Just as in the first paragraph, this is another opportunity for you to show what you know about the company and relate it to your abilities, to make you the perfect fit. If an employer is reading your cover letter with the question “Why should I hire this person?”, this paragraph will help him or her answer it.

Cover Letter Tip #35: Tailor the third paragraph to the specifics of the job.

If you are responding to a job advertisement, repeat some of the specific words and phrases used in the ad in your cover letter, particularly when you discuss why you’re a good fit for the company. The employer will easily make the connection that you understand the requirements of the job and match the company perfectly. In this paragraph, you should also refer to your enclosed resume for more information and list any other items that were requested and are also enclosed, such as writing samples or an official transcript.

Cover Letter Tip #36: Use the fourth paragraph to request the next step.

In your fourth paragraph, don’t end with a lackluster phrase such as “I look forward to hearing from you.” Be proactive and request the next step. If you are interested in scheduling an interview, say so … and then tell the employer that you will follow up in a specified period of time. Give information about where and when you can be contacted if the employer wants to call you first to schedule or needs more information, or mention when you’ll be in town if you live out of the area.

Cover Letter Tip #37: Make a follow-up call when you say you will.

Even though you have invited the employer to call to schedule an interview, be sure you follow up with a phone call within the time specified in the cover letter (two weeks is common). This holds true whether you are responding to a specific job advertisement or just inquiring about available positions. You want to be sure that at the very least your materials were received. This may not be possible if the ad has specified “no phone calls” or if you’re responding to a blind-box ad, but do your best.

Cover Letter Tip #38: Close with a thank-you and a positive action statement.

The last paragraph of your cover letter is just two simple sentences. The first is a confident statement that repeats the step you’d like the employer to take, such as “I look forward to an interview with you at your earliest convenience.” The second thanks the reader for his or her time and consideration. Skip another line or two; type the phrase “Sincerely” or “Very truly yours,” lined up with your address and personal information in the top right hand corner; skip another three to five lines; and type your name.

Cover Letter Tip #39: Don’t forget to sign your cover letter.

Just typing your name is not enough – you must also sign the letter. A handwritten signature adds a personal touch to the cover letter, and leaving it off might seem to be a careless mistake to the employer. Never use a script font or other computer program to print your signature. Use only blue or black ink and sign your name neatly. Try your best to make your name as legible as possible; even though your name is typed underneath, you don’t want to give the employer the impression that you are sloppy.

Cover Letter Tip #40: Proofread, proofread, proofread.

For many employers, an error in the cover letter sends it into the trash immediately. Your cover letter must not include any errors. Mistakes send the message that you are careless and unprofessional. Read your cover letter thoroughly for spelling errors. Don’t rely on spell-check to catch any errors you might have made. Spell-check won’t flag a word that is spelled correctly but used incorrectly (i.e. “their” instead of “there”). Even if the potential job has nothing to do with writing, the employer still wants someone who takes the time to ensure that written communications is accurate.

Cover Letter Tip #41: Double-check grammar and punctuation as well as spelling.

After you’ve checked your spelling, read your cover letter again for grammar and punctuation. This includes everything from making sure subjects and verbs match to confirming that you’ve used commas and periods correctly. If you’re one of the many job seekers who have forgotten all the grammar and punctuation rules you learned in school, don’t despair. There are many online websites that can help you review the basics and become more confident in your writing. If you feel you need more help, check with your local community college for other writing resources.

Cover Letter Tip #42: Verify all the information about the company and the position.

Verify all of the details you’ve included about the company and the position, especially if you have just tweaked a previously written cover letter. Did you spell the hiring manager’s name and title correctly? Do you have the correct name and spelling of the company throughout? Have you stated the name of the position accurately? Check everywhere – the address block, the greeting, the body of the letter and the envelope. Also check the facts you state about yourself against what’s included in your resume, to be sure there are no discrepancies.

Cover Letter Tip #43: Read your letter for tone.

After you’re certain that all your information is correct and consistent and all errors have been eliminated, read your cover letter one more time for tone. These issues can be harder to find than grammar or spelling errors. In essence, you are weeding out questionable statements. Look at each sentence carefully to see whether it enhances your suitability for the position or whether the employer could somehow misinterpret it unfavorably. Rewrite any statement that might be of concern. If you have trouble deciding, ask someone else to read the letter with those objectives in mind.

Cover Letter Tip #44: Let your cover letter sit for a day.

If you can, set your cover letter aside for a day or two, then pick it up and re-read it from the point of view of the employer. Does it grab your attention in the first paragraph and keep it throughout? Does it clearly state what you want? Does it contain only the information that’s relevant to the specific job? Is it free of any misspellings or grammar problems? Does it answer the question “Why should I hire this person”? If you answer “no” to any of those questions, fix the problems.

Cover Letter Tip #45: Have someone else do a final proofread of your cover letter.

It is very difficult for you to catch the mistakes in your own writing. Ask someone else to proofread your cover letter, mentioning what you’d like them to look for (spelling, grammar, punctuation and tone). If that’s not possible, read the letter out loud word by word. Every time you make a correction, start over again. Sometimes one correction will result in a chain of other needed corrections in punctuation or tense. This may seem like overkill, but you must be absolutely certain that your cover letter is perfect.

Cover Letter Tip #46: Don’t make messy corrections.

If you left something out of the cover letter, don’t add a supplemental note, even if it’s typed. Redo the entire cover letter and add the missing information. If you find mistakes in the letter, don’t use correction fluid or try to erase your errors. Again, redo the entire cover letter. Adding notes separately or trying to fix your mistakes on the original letter sends the message that you are lazy and unprofessional. Your cover letter needs to look as perfect as it can be, and it’s worth the extra time to retype it if needed.

Cover Letter Tip #47: Check all the details again before you send your cover letter.

Do one last check before you seal the envelope and send everything to the employer. Are you sending a signed original letter, not a photocopy? Did you keep copies of both the cover letter and resume for your records? Are all the pieces of requested information included (resume, writing samples, transcripts, etc.)? Are you mailing everything flat in a large envelope or neatly folded in thirds in a business envelope, with the cover letter on top? Remember that when you’re in a hurry you’re more likely to be careless.

Cover Letter Tip #48: Sometimes it’s acceptable to email a cover letter.

If this is your first contact with an employer, it’s permissible to email your cover letter and resume only when it is specifically allowed. Unless the job advertisement or other reliable information states that email is accepted, mail a hard copy of your cover letter and resume. Your first paragraph must be especially intriguing to keep the reader from hitting “delete.” You may also need to tighten up some of your paragraphs; some experts say that an emailed cover letter should be no more than one screen in length (approximately three paragraphs).

Cover Letter Tip #49: The same rules apply to email cover letters.

Format style is the main difference between email cover letters and the hard copy versions. The information block found at the top of the page in written letters goes underneath your signature in email. Copy and paste your cover letter into the email, or write it in the body of the email. Make sure your signature line includes your name, address, phone number and email, and that the subject line of the email refers to the position you’re inquiring about. Before you send it off, double-check your grammar, spelling, punctuation and tone.

Cover Letter Tip #50: Attachments can be added to emailed cover letters.

If the job advertisement asks you to send an attached resume, send it as a Word document. If the employer doesn’t accept attachments, copy and paste your resume into the body of your email. Use a font that’s easy to read and simple formatting. Don’t use HTML, because you don’t know what programs the employer uses or is familiar with. Send the email to yourself first so you can make sure the formatting works and any attachments can be opened. Once you have any bugs fixed, resend the email to the employer.
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