Cover Letter Tips - Tips on How to Write a Cover Letter

Top 10 Tips for Cover Letter Writing

A common question that I get when speaking with people about applying for jobs revolves around the infamous cover letter together with your resume. Do I really need a cover letter? Why is it important, if at all?

The real answer to this question is that it depends, but not in the way you may think. There are many employers that prefer a cover letter, while others do not. On the other hand, it may be a position that really would not warrant a cover letter. So in considering a resume cover letter, here are some tips to get you started:

Cover Letter Tip #1: Know the “Why”

Before you begin writing a cover letter, you need to first determine whether or not one is really needed. This will typically be in the instructions on applying for the job. There are many small to mid-sized employers that do not have an ATS (often known as an applicant tracking system) so as a result sometimes the best way to apply is to simply send them your resume by email. Instructions on their site or in the ad may request a cover letter, so this is one of the first ways to tell if you need to make one.

The second reason you may want to consider a cover letter is to convince the employer that you are one of the candidates that they need to interview for the role. Much like your resume, the goal is to get an interview first, and then let the interview land you the job. Also keep in mind that the purpose of the cover letter is to write a short letter or summary to a specific person about a specific position and for a specific company. Plus if you are just simply sending an email (and they do not have an online application) the Human Resource person is probably receiving hundreds of applications to sort through. Your cover letter may be what helps you stand out, so this is also something to consider as you prepare to send this email off.

Cover Letter Tip #2 – To Whom it May Concern

So while the title of this tip is commonly used, try to avoid the phrase “To Whom it May Concern” as much as possible. Being specific is best. Whenever possible, address the cover letter to a specific person by name and title. This will require a little bit of research, or just a simple phone call to the front desk to find out. If you are responding to what is known as a blind ad, where you may not know what company or person you are sending this to, try to use a title that is appropriate for the role. Hiring Manager is the most common title, but if you can, be even more specific such as “Service Director”, “Production Supervisor”, “Warehouse Manager”, etc.

Cover Letter Tip #3 – The First Paragraph: Research First

Explain the purpose of the cover letter. Try not to start with things like “I wanted to apply for such and such…” or “I am writing in reference to such and such position…” If you are submitting the resume based on given instructions, your cover letter and resume should be attached to that position already. In this first paragraph you want to mention something about the company that you have learned from your research. Or, if a particular person referred you to the company, this is a great place to mention this person by name. If this is the case, you may want to base some of the comments here on what this person has told you about working for the company.

Cover Letter Tip #4 – The Second Paragraph: A.S.K. – Abilities, Skills and Knowledge

Now is the time you can go into more details about your abilities, skills and knowledge. DO NOT write about what the company can do for you (something common that I have seen). It is not about what they can do for you, but what you can do for them. 

Remember: the reason the position is open is because the company is lacking. Now is the opportunity to explain how your background can fulfill this need. Using current industry jargon, mention how the abilities, skills and knowledge you possess will benefit the company or organization. Be careful not to rewrite your resume, but do refer to your resume specifically if there is something specific to highlight. You will find some resume samples that will outline specific keywords and such that may help you in writing your resume cover letter on our resume samples page:

Cover Letter Tip #5 – The Third Paragraph: Your Desire

Now is the time to talk about your interest in the role and the specifics as to why you would like to work for the company. Be specific, base it on the research and your own confidence in your ability to do the job well and be successful. If it applies, also remember to mention the desire to be challenged and to learn and grow and how working with this organization will contribute to this desire. Be sure to include your contact information, even if it is found on your resume.

Cover Letter Tip #6 – Future Steps

Once you have concluded with the above, you can include in this same paragraph the next steps. Try to avoid leaving the “ball in their court” as it were. In other words, do not write something like, “You can contact me anytime at…” or “I look forward to hearing from you…” Instead, request an interview (the whole purpose of the letter in the first place!). Let them know that you will be following up with them on a certain day or before a certain time frame. This will simply reinforce your desire that you just mentioned, and allow you to make a commitment and show that commitment. Be persistent, but don’t over do it, and ALWAYS follow through with the call. To pick a date and time to follow through with this follow up phone call, there are a few ways to determine when to make this call. If the position has a deadline where no more candidates will be accepted, this is a great indicator of when to call. Since they will need some time to review all candidates, plan on 1-2 days after that time. If there is no deadline, then follow up in a few days. If you sent the cover letter and resume on Friday, Monday is probably not a good time to call as they probably have not had time to review anything yet!

Cover Letter Tip #7 – Salary Information

If at all possible, avoid listing any salary requirements in the cover letter. Wait until a job is offered before negotiating salary. However, in bad economic conditions, or for companies on a tight budget, they may request that you include salary information in the cover letter (or at least in the application). This can be a tough thing to handle, but the reality is if the company has a tight budget that they cannot get around, and you want more than they can offer, it is best to move on and not waste each others time.  It can be frustrating to get to the point of a job offer only to receive a low offer, or to find that there is not a fit based on salary. So if it is necessary, try and provide a range as opposed to an exact amount (and if they provide a range in the job description then just use a variation of that). Now when I say variation, don’t low ball yourself. If the range provided is from $45,000 - $55,000 and you would like to make $50,000, then give a range of $50,000 - $55,000.

Cover Letter Tip #8 – Proofread

Always proofread your cover letter. Check for misspelling and correct punctuation. If possible, have someone you trust review your cover letter considering the content, the tone and the grammar. In regards to tone, keep in mind the message you want to convey. There should be a general feeling of energy and enthusiasm as well as a sound ability to meet the needs of the employer. Most computer programs will check spelling for you automatically, but the tone and grammar will need to be checked and double checked. Having others review it is great because they will often see things that you did not think about or may have just missed. 

Cover Letter Tip #9 – Cover Letter Spamming

This idea comes from my Resume Tips on this site. You need to be unique in each cover letter that you write. Avoid "Spamming" your cover letter just like you would resume spamming as mentioned in my resume tips. Cover Letter spamming is writing something very basic and generic and including it with the resume. Even if the resume sample you have created is unique to the organization, if you include a cover letter that is not unique as well, it defeats the purpose! Each resume Cover Letter should be tailored to the organization for which you are applying. I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a cover letter together with the resume and the cover letter actually addresses a different company! What were they thinking?

Cover Letter Tip #10 - Thank You

This is not really something that you type in the letter itself, but I thought I would mention this tip just as a reminder, and to be honest, I wanted to list ten great cover letter tips just like the resume tips, but I could only come up with 9, so consider this cover letter tip a bonus!

Saying thank you is very powerful. If you think about it, not every company will send you a letter or email after you apply for a job, so sometimes it is hard to know if they even got your resume, much less reviewed your qualifications. Those companies that do get in touch with you (even if it is just to say they chose another candidate), these companies typically stand out. So you can stand out too.

Sending a thank you letter after the interview will stand out, and if possible, being specific about the interview in this letter will leave a nice impression. It can also allow for you to once again mention your qualifications for the role, keeping your interview fresh on their mind. Remember the purpose of the resume and the cover letter is to land an interview. You can review some of my resume tip videos that discuss this in more detail.