How To Write A Cover Letter That Stands Out

by | Resumes & LinkedIn

How do you write a cover letter that stands out? Are cover letters still important and relevant? Do recruiters even read them anymore?

There’s a lot of debate as to whether you need to include a cover letter with your resume, as many job applicants worry it’ll never be read by the recruiter or hiring manager.

Because the job market is incredibly competitive right now, consider using your cover letter as an additional opportunity to stand out in a sea of applicants.

Importantly, though, if you do decide to include a cover letter with your job application, it needs to be well-written and convince the reader that you deserve an interview.

Continue reading to learn more about cover letters, including why they’re still necessary, how to craft an effective one, and strategies to make yours stand out.

What Is The Purpose Of A Cover Letter?

Before diving into how to write an effective cover letter, let’s first discuss its purpose, as many job seekers mistakenly use their cover letter as a summary of their resume. Unfortunately, merely rehashing your resume will not help you stand out.

Instead, the purpose of your cover letter is to communicate your unique value proposition (fabulousness). In other words, it’s an opportunity to quickly highlight what sets you apart from the hundreds, or thousands, of other people applying for the same role as you.

[Read: How To Stop Selling Yourself Short In Your Career]

Do Recruiters Read Cover Letters?

So, do recruiters and hiring managers even read cover letters nowadays? Like most things in the job search, it depends. That said, many employers do read cover letters, and they can help increase your chances of landing an interview, so it doesn’t hurt to include one with your application, so long as it’s written well.

Note: You can’t guarantee your cover letter will get read, and not all prospective employers will look at it. However, there are several advantages to including one with your resume, which we’ll dive into next.

Why Is A Cover Letter Important?

One of the most important reasons to include a cover letter with your application is that it’s an additional opportunity to share your fabulousness. Considering how competitive the current employment market is, you want to take every chance you can to stand out from other applicants.

Another important reason to include a cover letter is that it’s the perfect platform for explaining why you want to work for a specific company. Although your rationale doesn’t need to extend beyond one to two sentences, it needs to be specific and tailored to each employer.

How To Write A Good Cover Letter

Now, let’s walk through the specifics of what goes into your cover letter. A typical cover letter has three main parts: the introduction, the body, and the closing.

1. Begin your cover letter with what drew you to the company and position.

Start your cover letter off strong by beginning with what drew you to the company and the position you are applying to. Opening your cover letter with your specific interest in the company and available position not only shows the prospective employer you applied to their specific opening for a reason, rather than deploying a “spray and pray” approach, but also makes the argument that you are the best candidate for the specific opening.

You want to be careful with length here. Rather than going into detail as to what drew you to the company, highlight just one to two main points, as you’ll have ample time during the interview process to explain in further detail.

Important: Your rationale needs to be specific enough that you cannot use the same one for Meta that you would for Amazon, Google, LinkedIn, or Instagram, for example.

2. Highlight what sets you apart from other job applicants.

Next, the body of your cover letter should focus on what sets you apart from other candidates, as the goal is to help the recruiter place your application in the “yes!” pile.

You can be bold and say, “Here is what sets me apart from other [Role you are applying to],” and then include three main points, backed by specific career accomplishments from your work history, that highlight your fabulousness.

As you develop these points, don’t be afraid to share examples and stories from your career. You can also inject results, numbers, and percentages where appropriate and helpful.

3. End your cover letter with a clear call to action.

While it’s true that you only get one first impression, it’s also true that you only get one last impression, and you want it to be as memorable as possible. Consequently, you want to close your cover letter by reinforcing your interest and experience, thanking the recruiter for their time and consideration, and providing a clear call to action.

The end of your cover letter is not the place for passive language. You want to demonstrate your confidence and ask for an interview! You might consider closing your cover letter by stating, “You may reach me at [email address] or [phone number] to arrange my interview.”

How To Write A Cover Letter That Stands Out

How To Address A Cover Letter

Now, let’s get into the nitty-gritty. For starters, how do address your cover letter?

Although you’ll likely be submitting your cover digitally into the company’s applicant tracking system (ATS), it doesn’t hurt to spend a few minutes customizing your cover letter for each application. This doesn’t need to be a time-consuming process, though!

If the job posting lists the recruiter or hiring manager’s name, you can address your cover letter to them. If no contact is listed, you can conduct research via the company’s website and LinkedIn to see if the information is easily accessible, but you don’t need to spend hours trying to chase it down. If you can’t quickly find a specific contact’s name, you can address your cover letter more broadly to the company’s recruiting team.

How Long Should A Cover Letter Be?

Your cover letter doesn’t need to be lengthy. In fact, an unnecessarily long cover letter will unlikely go unread. While it may sound short, aim for 250 words when writing your cover letter. You can use bullet points to break up long blocks of text and bolded phrases to draw the reader’s attention to your most important points.

Note: There will be exceptions, such as the company asking you to include certain details or a response to application questions, that may require you to write a longer cover letter. Additionally, industries like education often expect multi-page cover letters.

However, the typical cover letter doesn’t need more than a few short paragraphs to communicate your interest in the company and unique value proposition.

How To Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out

Speaking of which, what can you do to make your cover letter stand out? One way to quickly grab the reader’s attention is to mention whether you received a referral for the position, as many roles are landed by way of networking.

[Read: How To Get A Job Fast: 6 Tips To Speed Up Your Search]

Another strategy worth considering is incorporating a testimonial, or a snippet of a LinkedIn recommendation, to provide your prospective employer with “social proof” of your value. You can think of this as being like a review on a company’s website or Yelp page — if two restaurants are equally enticing, you’re more likely to eat at the one with a great review. 

Conclusion: How To Write A Great Cover Letter

Although not every employer will read your cover letter, you want the ones who do to be impressed by your qualifications and unique value proposition. Keep your cover letter to approximately 250 words in length, try to address it to a specific person at the company, and consider adding a testimonial to help you stand out.

Applying these strategies should make it easy to craft a compelling cover letter that captures the reader’s attention and lands you an interview. You’ve got this!

A version of this article first appeared on the Career Tool Belt blog with the title, “How To Write An Effective Cover Letter.”

About Dr. Kyle Elliott

About Dr. Kyle Elliott

Dr. Kyle Elliott is the founder and career coach behind CaffeinatedKyle.com. His expertise is in Silicon Valley and high-tech. As a result of working with Dr. Elliott, senior managers and executives have landed jobs at Meta, Amazon, Google, and nearly every other tech giant you can imagine.

A trusted career expert, Dr. Elliott’s words have been featured on Business Insider, CNBC, CNN, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, Fortune, Harvard Business Review, and The New York Times, among dozens of other leading publications. He has been recognized as a Best Career & Interview Coach, Best Resume Writer for Silicon Valley/Tech Managers & Executives, and LinkedIn Top Voice (the platform’s highest honor).

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