During a job search, a cover letter acts as a personal and professional introduction. In less than one page, it highlights your key qualifications and convinces the employer that you would be an excellent addition to the team — no small feat. While writing the perfect letter takes both time and care, the extra effort can set you apart from candidates with letters copied from career-center samples.
Unless you've met the employer in person, your cover letter is your one chance to make a first impression. Avoid dry, boring text, and find ways to inject your unique voice and personality into the letter. If you're naturally funny, add a touch of professionally appropriate wit; if you're serious, show off your passion and intensity for the job. When in doubt, stay away from any phrase that you might find in an online sample. At the end of the letter, the employer should have an idea of who you are as a person and what it would be like to work with you.
Keep It Short
Hiring managers spend a limited amount of time with each resume and cover letter, so brevity is key. Restrict your letter to approximately three concise, well-crafted paragraphs. As a general guideline, the employer should be able to scan the full text in 10 seconds. Writing a short letter is more difficult than it seems; it requires you to eliminate all unnecessary words and get straight to the point.
Use the Element of Surprise
When an employer is considering candidates for an open job, he is likely to read a variety of letters from people with similar qualifications and work histories. To set yourself apart from other applicants, identify something in your background that is surprising or unexpected. Mention how a yearlong trip around the world transformed your communication style, or connect the process of managing a professional team to your experience as an Outward Bound instructor.
Alternatively, surprise the employer with an out-of-the-ordinary accomplishment, such as becoming the youngest director at your last position or increasing sales by 50 percent with a single marketing campaign. These surprises pique the employer's interest and help make your cover letter memorable.
Match the Corporate Culture
If your job search targets companies with a powerful culture, use your cover letter to prove that you are a good fit. Use a tone that mimics the company's style. For an ultra-casual or youthful company, use a conversational tone and drop in one or two trendy industry phrases. When applying to large, established companies, aim for a professional yet approachable tone. If you are looking for a high-level executive position, your letter should brim with confidence and authority.
Writing the perfect cover letter is rarely an easy process, even for the most accomplished writers. By paring down the content and creating a targeted letter for each company, you can write a compelling document that enhances your application.
Photo courtesy of tiramisustudio at FreeDigitalPhotos.net