What A Cover Letter Should Have

Very few job opportunities do not require a cover letter. Cover letters are a must-have in the application process because they give you an opportunity to showcase your skills beyond the traditional resume.

Each part of your cover letter reveals something important to potential employers — whether you want the job or not. And unfortunately for some job seekers, not all of the revelations are positive.

Take a look at some examples of real-life cover letter sentences that don’t quite make the cut in the competitive hiring landscape.

1. “My skills and experience are an excellent fit for this position.”

At the beginning of every cover letter,  state the position you’re applying to. Then describe exactly how your skills and experience are a good fit.

Employers are not interested in applicants who will jump at just any job. They want applicants who have their eyes on the open position and who have relevant experience. By generically stating you’d be a great fit for the position, you admit to hiring managers that you haven’t taken the time to find the specific job title, review the qualifications or think about how your specific skill set meshes with the role.

To avoid this perception, be specific.

Your initial statement should sound something like this: “With ten years of experience in the stock market, I am seeking a position as a day trader with ABC Investments.” This shows you actually care about the particular position and took the time to research the job title and customize your cover letter.

2. “I have been looking for an opportunity to work in this industry.”

Employers want to hire someone who cares about their company, not someone who finds all companies in a particular industry interchangeable.

Don’t wait for the interview to show you’ve done your homework. For example, when applying for a store manager position at Jamba Juice, a statement like, “I have a dedicated work ethic and years of experience as a chef,” doesn’t work. Jamba Juice is known for hiring upbeat, energetic employees. The business specializes in smoothies — not French cuisine.

Instead think about how your past experience applies specifically to Jamba Juice.

If you write a cover letter specific to an industry and not a particular company, you’re wasting an opportunity to show your passion for this specific company — something hiring managers look for.

3. “Thank you for taking the time to read my resume.”

Studies show that people who ask for raises are more likely to get them. The same concept is true in your job application. Ending a cover letter with a request for an interview will lead to more job offers.

Weak closing messages like, “Thank you for your time,” or “I hope to talk with you soon,” give the hiring manager a choice: To call you back, or not to call you back. Asking for an interview creates the impetus for the hiring manager to at least call back in response to your application.

Address your cover letter to a specific person. Look up the name of the hiring manager or human resource manager before you send it off. If the company website does not list the hiring manager’s name, call the business directly. You’ll show a heightened level of interest and indicate you’re serious about this job.

4. “I am an experienced, goal-oriented team player.”

Hiring managers read cover letters all day long. They are used to reading the same words and phrases in each letter. If you write a cover letter with the generic format, you express you’re a generic candidate who didn’t put much thought into how your experience or goal orientation fits in with the role.

Resumes and cover letters should show personal qualities, not tell about them. (Click here to tweet this thought.)

Instead, think about writing statements like this: “I served as the COO of Plant Pharmaceuticals for ten years. During that time, I managed a team of 50 people and set aggressive revenue goals. Last year, our executive team wanted to increase departmental revenue by three percent, but I was able to bring in an additional six percent by introducing an innovative social media strategy that drove over 100,000 new sales.”

The last statement shows all of the same generic qualities, but backs them up with actual facts.

5. “I’m everything that you’re looking for… and more!”

Job postings often include keywords that show what the company wants in an employee. These keywords represent skill sets that are important because they can be used in your cover letter.

Incorporated these keywords into your cover letter so that hiring managers — and more importantly, applicant tracking systems — will better understand that you have the necessary talents and pay attention to each detail.

If a job posting requests an employee who is punctual and willing to learn new skills, you should incorporate these two attributes in your cover letter. This instantly shows that you understand the needs of the position.

6. “I look forward to you’re response.”

It sounds crazy, but spelling and punctuation are common cover letter problems. In a recent study by Grammarly, we learned there are five errors on a typical cover letter or resume. The top mistakes include verb tense, hyphen use, formatting and careless spelling mistakes (words that are spelled correctly but used in the wrong context).

Before sending your resume or cover letter, always spell check and proofread your document first. Better yet, have a grammar-minded friend do it for you. Misspellings, typos and errors show you lack attention to detail.

A cover letter is one of the first pieces of information a hiring manager receives about you. Many hiring managers use your cover letter to read between the lines and figure out what type of person you are. This piece of paper will determine if you get an interview or not.

So what do you want your cover letter to portray? That you’re careless, generic and arrogant? Or that you’re meticulous, dedicated and passionate? Although the interview will ultimately determine if you are hired, your cover letter is your secret password to make it to the interview.

Max Lytvyn, co-founder and head of product strategy for Grammarly, drives the future direction and technical integration of Grammarly’s product portfolio. Connect with Max, the Grammarly team and more than one million Grammarly Facebook fans at www.facebook.com/grammarly.

Your cover letter is your opportunity to, succinctly, tell the employer why you are the best fit for the job. Think of it in terms of a personal marketing piece that augments your resume. A successful cover letter will convince a hiring manager that you are enough of a “fit” to for them to review your resume.

So here’s what every cover letter must cover:

  1. The Hello – Well duh, right? Of course you’re going to have some sort of salutation, but the point here is that you should do your research and get a name to send your letter to. Surf the company’s website, dig around LinkedIn, find someone you know at the company and ask them – really, do whatever it takes to send your letter and resume to a specific person. A hiring manager is going to pay much closer attention to a letter delivered directly to them addressed to Dear Mr. Stephens, rather than a “To Whom It May Concern” delivered with a pile of other similarly addressed letters.
  2. The Intro – Here’s where you must get their attention! In my old world of newspapers, this was called the lead – where you get across the who, what, where, when and why in such as way as to convince the reader to keep reading. The best way to do this is to quickly get across what it is you can do for them. So instead of just telling them the obvious in your intro paragraph – “I’m writing to apply to…”, instead use the intro to sell yourself – “Having designed 3 professional websites since graduating with a degree in web development last year, I am writing to express my interest in [Name of Position] with [Name of Company]. You will see on the enclosed resume that I have worked with top-tier eCommerce sites with challenges very similar to those of [Your Company].” Right away you’re telling them that you can help them with whatever problem they’re trying to solve by hiring for this position.
  3. The Proof – Now you need to back up that hard sell you just did in your intro. This paragraph should tie into your resume, but without being redundant. Give examples of relevant work you have done that directly tie to the types of competencies they are looking for. Again, be as succinct as possible – use a couple of bullets and only state examples that are relevant to the hiring company. It’s swell that you are an accomplished flamenco dancer, but if you can’t tie that talent specifically to the job (or you know for a fact that the hiring manager is a big fan), it’s best to leave it out.
  4. The Company – Show the hiring manager that you’ve done your research and understand the company’s goals and how your skills can help them be successful. You’ll need to go beyond the job description here – do some digging into the company website to get a better understanding of what makes them successful, where their competition lies, what they can do to lead their field. Sticking with the web developer example from above, one approach might look like this: “I’ve researched your company from a social media standpoint and see opportunities to close the gap between [your company] and [your top competitor]. This strategy worked well for me at my last site, increasing eCommerce traffic by 25%.”
  5. The Close – Keep it short and sweet. The key goal with your close is to quickly summarize what it is you bring to the table and why your particular skills will benefit the company. Close with a request to follow up at their convenience.

There’s a lot of territory to cover in 4 (5 max) paragraphs, but the good news is that once you’ve got one or two well-organized cover letters under your belt, future letters will be easy to pop off. Remember, the cover letter is the marketing piece that augments your resume. If you use your cover letter to specifically sell yourself for the position you are shooting for, you’ll show hiring managers that you’re worth taking a serious look at.

Veronica C.

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