How to Write a Cover Letter That Stands Out

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You’ve got your resume set, so why the need for a cover letter? Does anyone even read them? YES! A recent study on employer preference still shows that the majority (56%) of employers read cover letters. A cover letter can provide that needed boost to show the employer that you would be a good fit. A great letter shows employers how you can and have done the job you are applying for or interested in and why they should hire YOU. It is also a great way to reach out to a contact and further show the individual your past accomplishments and describe some of the experience on your resume. Read on to see tips to make your cover letter shine.

If you need help with your cover letter, check out the best cover letter builders.

What is a Cover Letter?

Your resume is a well-crafted document that lays out dates, facts and details (also take a look at the best resume writing services). Your cover letter is a chance to expand upon your resume and highlight some of your greatest achievements and projects. It can be used as a part of a job application, reaching out to a company of interest or connecting to a networking contact. Each of these types of cover letters serve a specific purpose and should be formatted appropriately.

How To Write A Good Cover Letter

Step 1: Choose your cover letter format

Cover letters are used for different reasons, so determine which of the three letters you are writing before you move on to step 2.

Type 1: Job Application Cover letter
Cover letters can be required as a part of a job application and usually accompany your resume. Even if it is not required, you should still include a cover letter when asked to submit your resume for a job application. This is your chance to really shine and show that you should be invited to the interview.

When is it used?
This cover letter is geared towards a specific position and used to supplement your resume and further sell yourself to the employer. In this format, you want to use a similar heading as your resume. As a matter of fact, copy and paste your resume heading, which includes your name and contact information. This will be a more formal letter as it is a part of your application.

Pro tip to stand out
Make sure to address your letter to a specific person. Most job postings go to a general HR contact, but take the extra two minutes and email or pick up the phone to ask HR who is hiring for this position. Address the letter to that individual! But, if you have put in the time and effort and still cannot find a contact name, aim for something specific but generic like “Sales Hiring Manager,” or “Account Executive Hiring Committee.”

Type 2: Prospecting Cover Letter

When is it used?
This type of letter is written to a specific employee or company showing interest in the company and inquiring about job opportunities. In this letter, you can also use the same resume heading and make sure speak to the type of role you are looking for and the values of the company. This letter should be addressed to a specific individual or hiring manager in the department you are interested in working.

Pro tip to stand out
Target about 5 companies or organizations of interest that match what you are looking for in your next career. In the letter speak specifically to what attracted you to this company.

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Type 3: Networking Cover Letter

When is it used?
This cover letter is not a formal cover letters like the first two, but this “letter” is usually sent in the body of an email with your resume attached. This is what you send to colleagues, friends, and other contacts.

Pro tip to stand out
When writing a networking letter/email, use the individual's name as you would typically do in an email. Then, in the first sentence, make the connection. Remind the individual how you know him or her or how you were referred. Then, get to the point of why you are reaching out. Do you want to schedule a coffee or meeting to learn more about the company? Do you want to talk more about a specific opening in the company?

Step 2: Write a Catchy Opening Paragraph

Now that you have decided on which type of letter you will write, lets focus on the content of this letter. Right away in the opening sentence, catch their attention and show your passion. If you are writing an application letter, make sure to mention which position you are applying for.

Show some excitement!
Instead of the generic, “I am writing this letter to apply for the advisor position,” show some excitement and energy! Try something like “I am excited to apply for the marketing position and show you how I would be a great fit for X company.”

Name drop
For all types of letters, this opening paragraph is a great place to name drop. Did someone refer you to the position? Do you know someone within this organization who would sing your praises? If so, ask their permission, then mention that they recommended you apply. Why? Because if anyone reading the letter recognizes a name of a co-worker, they are much more likely to spend more time reading and following up about you as a potential candidate.

Step 3: Show off in the Body of the Letter

Now that you have gotten their attention, this part of the letter should show examples of HOW you fit the position/company/career field. This is the part you sell yourself through examples.

Tailor your examples to the job description
Pull up the job description or the company’s website and read through it again. Pick out 2 or 3 of the requirements or values that fit you. Then, think of a specific example of how you have done this in the past.

Get specific
Introduce your example by referencing the job description or values of the company and highlighting that you have excelled at this in the past. Then, briefly describe your example with as much concrete details and data as possible.

Step 4: Wrapping the letter up

Thank the individual for their time. Restate your purpose. If you are using it as an application letter, show your enthusiasm for the position and be confident in the next steps. End your letter letting them know that you are looking forward to sharing more about your qualifications during the interview. If you are using it as a prospecting or networking cover letter and aim to set up a meeting, provide the individual with your general availability. And, again, thank them for the time and let them know you look forward to meeting with them.

Tips for Writing A Great Cover Letter

  • Create a new cover letter for each position or company. Yes, some of your examples can be used for different jobs, but make sure to look at the job description for each position and use specific examples that match those requirements.
  • Focus on how you can help the employer, not on how the employer can help you! Everyone applying wants this position to gain more experience, learn the industry, etc. You should write this letter thinking about how you can solve the employer’s problems and excel as an employee.
  • Don’t apologize. Don’t highlight the things you are missing from the job description, highlight the things you excel at!
  • Write in the company's voice. If they call their customers “clients” use that language in your letter. Spend time on the companies website and social media accounts to get a sense of their culture and values.
  • Brag! I know it can be hard to talk about yourself, but be confident and convincing that you are the best candidate. If you don't tell them, who will?

Final Thoughts

Although it may seem like writing a cover letter is just one more thing on your to do list, they can be the difference maker between getting your next position or not. A polished cover letter, along with an excellent resume, makes a great first impression and sets the tone for your interview or networking meeting. Make the individual interested in learning more about you and leave them thinking about how you might be a great fit at their organization.

About the Writer

Kelli is an education consultant and owner at Capital College and Career. Her unique blend of high education experiences, spanning from advising, program coordinating as well as teaching, make Kelli an expert in helping students and young adults succeed and find their path to succeed.