I’ve read a lot of cover letters throughout my career. When I was a fellowship program manager, I reviewed them in consideration for more than 60 open positions each year. So I saw it all–the good, the bad, and the standout examples that I can still remember.
As a result, I’ve become the go-to friend when people need feedback on their job applications. Based on my own experience putting people in the “yes” (and “no”) pile, I’m able to give these cover letters a quick scan and immediately identify what’ll turn a hiring manager off.
While I can’t give you insight into every person’s head who’ll be reading your materials, I can share with you the feedback that I give my own loved ones.
1. The Basics
First things first, I skim the document for anything that could be disqualifying. That includes typos, a “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern” salutation, or a vibe so non-specific that it reeks of find-replace. I know it seems harsh, but when a hiring manager sees any one of these things, she reads it as, “I didn’t take my time with this, and I don’t really care about working here.” So she’s likely to pass.
Another thing I look for in this initial read-through is tone. Even if you’re applying to your dream company, you don’t want to come off like you think someone entertaining your candidacy is the same as him offering you water at the end of a lengthy hike. You don’t need to thank the hiring manager so incredibly much for reading your application–that’s his job. If you align considering your application with the biggest favor ever, you’ll make the other person think it’s because you’re desperate.
So, skip effusive thanks and demonstrate genuine interest by writing a cover letter that connects the dots between your experience and the requirements of the position. Telling the reader what you’ve accomplished and how it directly translates to meeting the company’s needs is always a better use of space than gushing.
2. The Opening Sentence
If your first line reads: “I am writing to apply for [job] at [company],” I will delete it and suggest a swap every time. (Yes, every single time.) When a hiring manager sees that, she won’t think, “How thoughtful of the applicant to remind me what I’m reading!” Her reaction will be much closer to, “boring,” “meh,” or even “next!”
Compare it to one of these statements:
I’ve wanted to work in education ever since my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Dorchester, helped me discover a love of reading.
My approach to management is simple: I strive to be the kind of leader I’d want to work for.
In my three years at [prior company], I increased our average quarterly sales by [percentage].
See how these examples make you want to keep reading? That’s half the battle right there. Additionally, it makes you memorable, which’ll help when you’re competing against a sea of applicants.
To try it out for yourself, pick a jumping-off point. It could be something about you or an aspect of the job description that you’re really drawn to. Then, open a blank document and just free-write (translation: write whatever comes to mind) for 10 minutes. Some of the sentences you come up with will sound embarrassing or lame: That’s fine–no one has to see those! Look for the sentence that’s most engaging and see how it reads as the opening line for your cover letter.
3. The Examples
Most often, people send me just their cover letter and resume, so I don’t have the benefit of reviewing the position description. And yet, whenever a letter follows the format of “I am skilled at [skill], [skill], [skill], as evidenced by my time at [place].” Or “You’re looking for [skill], and I am a talented [skill], ” I could pretty much re-create it. Surprise: that’s actually not a good thing.
Again, the goal isn’t just to show you’re qualified: It’s to make the case that you’re more qualified than all the other applicants. You want to make clear what distinguishes you, so the hiring manager can see why you’re worth following up with to learn more. And–again–you want to be memorable.
If you write a laundry list, it’ll blend into every other submission formatted the same way. So, just like you went with a unique opener, do the same with your examples. Sure, you might still include lists of skills, but break those up with anecdotes or splashes of personality.
Here’s a real, two-line excerpt from a cover letter I’ve written before:
If I’m in a conference room and the video isn’t working, I’m not the sort to simply call IT and wait. I’ll also (gracefully) crawl under the table, and check that everything is properly plugged in.
A couple lines like this will not only lighten up your letter, but also highlight your soft skills. I got the point across that I’m a take-charge problem solver, without saying, “I’m a take-charge problem solver.” Plus the “(gracefully)” shows that I don’t take myself too seriously–even in a job application. If your submission follows the same list-type format all the way through, see if you can’t pepper in an example or anecdote that’ll add some personality.
You want your cover letter to stand out for all the right reasons. So, before you click submit, take a few minutes to make sure you’re putting your best (and most memorable) foot forward.
Related Video: This Is What People Really Think Of Your Resumé
This article originally appeared on The Daily Muse and is reprinted with permission.
Smart tips to help you format and write a cover letter
Struggling to write a cover letter that will catch an employer's attention? We've got tips to help you show your best self—and a sample you can use to get started.
There's nothing scary about writing a cover letter.
You've found the perfect job, hit the "apply" button, and started the process with your engines revved and ready. But wait! Slam the brakes! They want a cover letter. Oh no.
Don't let this request derail you. Here's everything you need to know to write a letter that truly sells your skills. Plus, scroll down to see a sample cover letter you can use to craft your own.
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a one-page document that, along with your resume, is sent with your job application. A cover letter is your chance to tell a potential employer why you’re the perfect person for the position and how your skills and expertise can add value to the company. The letter should be professional but personable, and serve as a sort of introduction.
Do I need to send a cover letter?
A lot of job seekers today wonder if a cover letter is still appropriate to send with your resume—and the answer is yes! Even if an employer doesn’t ask for a cover letter, it couldn’t hurt to send one. In fact, it’s can help you get someone's attention in a different way, and it can be a great way to display your enthusiasm for the job and company.
What are the basic elements of a cover letter?
- Greeting: Address your cover letter to the proper person.
- Opening: Write a personable, inviting opening paragraph that notes how your skills are a perfect fit to the job and displays your enthusiasm.
- Hook: Highlight your past achievements as they relate to the job you're applying for.
- Skills: Emphasize additional relevant skills, such as computer languages or certifications.
- Close: Briefly recap your strengths as a candidate, and include your contact information.
Cover letter tips
1. Parrot the keywords: Just like with your resume, your cover letters should be customized for each job you apply to. Start by reviewing the job description. In it, you will find important keywords that let you know what kind of employee the company is hoping to find. Use these same keywords throughout your cover letter.
2. Adapt for the company: Each version of your cover letter should talk about how your skills will benefit the particular company that you want to work for. You want to target the company’s needs—not your own. Demonstrate how you could help them achieve their goals. Remember: You're selling yourself in a resume and a cover letter, but the employer has to want to buy.
3. Show you "get" them: Your cover letter should demonstrate that you have done some research into what the organization's pain points are. Presenting yourself as a solution to a hiring manager’s problem can help your cover letter take the right tone. If you’re applying to an administrative position, be sure to mention your time-management skills; if you’re an IT professional, include your expertise in improving efficiency. Always ask yourself: How can I help this company?
4. Proofread. Don’t assume spell check will catch every mistake (it won’t). Slowly review your cover letter to make sure everything reads properly. Have someone else read your cover letter for backup.
Need even more confidence before you start your cover letter? Below are some additional cover letter tips you could reference—or keep scrolling for a cover letter sample:
Cover letter mistakes you should avoid: From overusing “I” to being too vague, there are a bunch of pitfalls that can trip you up. Don’t let them!
Cover letter format and advice tips: Learn how to set up your cover letter and what each section should include.
Cover letter tips for new grads: You might lack real-world work experience, but your cover letter can be chock-full of activities that demonstrate your potential to succeed.
Cover letter tips for technology professionals: The ease of applying to online jobs has led many IT professionals to skip sending a cover letter, but that’s a mistake.
Cover letter tips for finance professionals: If you’re searching for a finance job or want to be prepared just in case, you will need a dynamic cover letter to grab the hiring managers’ attention.
Tips for better email cover letters: If you're emailing a resume, your cover letter will deliver the first impression. These eight tips will help you craft a better email cover letter.
Cover letter sample
Check out the sample cover letter below (or download the template as a Word doc) to get some inspiration to craft your own. And we've also got you covered if you're looking for a cover letter in a specific industry.
Once you've finished your cover letter, consider joining Monster—you can upload and store up to five cover letters and resumes, so that you can apply for jobs on our site in a snap!
Ms. Rhonda West
Customer Service Manager
123 Corporate Blvd.
Sometown, CO 50802
Re: Customer Service Representative Opening (Ref. ID: CS300-Denver)
Dear Ms. West:
I was excited to see your opening for a customer service rep, and I hope to be invited for an interview.
My background includes serving as a customer service associate within both call-center and retail environments. Most recently, I worked on the customer service desk for Discount-Mart, where my responsibilities included handling customer merchandise returns, issuing refunds/store credits, flagging damaged merchandise for shipment back to vendors and providing back-up cashiering during busy periods.
Previously, I worked within two high-volume customer-support call centers for a major telecommunications carrier and a satellite television services provider. In these positions, I demonstrated the ability to resolve a variety of issues and complaints (such as billing disputes, service interruptions or cutoffs, repair technician delays/no-shows and equipment malfunctions). I consistently met my call-volume goals, handling an average of 56 to 60 calls per day.
In addition to this experience, I gained considerable customer service skills during my part-time employment as a waitress and restaurant hostess while in high school.
I also bring to the table strong computer proficiencies in MS Word, MS Excel and CRM database applications and a year of college (business major). Please see the accompanying resume for details of my experience and education.
I am confident that I can offer you the customer service, communication and problem-solving skills you are seeking. Feel free to call me at 555-555-5555 (home) or 555-555-5500 (cell) to arrange an interview. Thank you for your time—I look forward to learning more about this opportunity!