It’s no secret: writing a good cover letter is a challenge, especially if it’s your first time. The secret? Stop obsessing! Your cover letter should be no more than a concise introduction of who you are, what you can do, and, most importantly, why you are the best fit for the job. Because really, that’s all employers want to know - at least,until you wow them during the interview, but that’s another story.
In the meantime, learn from these tips on writing a power-packed cover letter that will make them doubt, in a good way, that you’re even a first-timer:
Always the number one rule: don’t get overwhelmed. Remember, your cover letter can make a huge impact on how a potential employer views you. If it’s spotless, detailed, and interesting, you will grab some serious attention, but hopefully, that won’t be your last chance to impress. If you’re lucky enough to be called for an interview, then you can blabber your background away. But for now, the goal is to highlight your most relevant skills and abilities.
Make Your Opening Line Stand Out
As a first-time job seeker, you can’t afford an inefficient cover letter, and an efficient cover letter always opens with a standout line. Instead of saying, "I want to apply for the Medical Assistant position you advertised on XYZ,” why not go, "I want to help your hospital provide premium health care services by taking on the role of Medical Assistant.” Needless to say, your opening line sets the tone for the rest of your cover letter, so make it rock.
Tell The Truth And Prove It
If you’re going to tell them you’re the best for the position, you better back that up with solid evidence. How exactly are you the best? What can you contribute that the others cannot? Mention skills or traits that the job ad might have indicated, and give them a rundown of all your relevant credentials. But since it’s your first cover letter and you likely don’t have much experiential value to offer, emphasize your academic accomplishments instead, along with your internships, participation in student associations, and everything else that proves you’re the best for the job.
Lure Them Into Your Resume
Just before you close your cover letter, leave them with a polite but tempting call to action. For example, “I invite you to explore my resume for more details of my background.” When they do dive into your resume, make sure it can walk your talk. No matter how well-written your cover letter is, if you can’t provide details to expound each claim you’ve made, it will not help you and may even harm your chances of landing the job. An employer may require only a resume, but if they also want a cover letter, these two should always be in sync.
Stay Away From What You Don’t Have
There’s nothing wrong with not mentioning a skill or qualification you don’t have. You’re not obliged to and the last thing you want is to draw attention where you’re not the best. Instead, focus on areas where you have much to be confident about. Employers are usually flexible and realize that certain skills can be learned on the job, but of course, you need to meet the company’s standards for the core expertise required.
Make It Personal
If you really want to connect with a potential employer, give your cover letter that proverbial human touch. In short, keep it personal, but this may go beyond Googling facts about the company or adding the hiring manager’s name. For example, try actually calling them and asking for information. You can even try finding a contact who’s willing to vouch for you, and mention their name in the first paragraph of your letter. This is a great way of piquing a hiring manager’s interest. Of course, if you’re going to add a person’s name in your application, make sure you’ve checked with them beforehand.
Format Your Letter Right
Your cover letter shouldn’t only contain accurate information. It should also look polished and professional. Hence, check your formatting before putting it out. If you’re sending a traditional physical letter, observe the right business letter protocols, including adding your contact information, date, and employer’s contact information on the upper portion of the letter. If you’re sending your cover letter as an email, make sure to add a subject line with your name and the position you’re applying for. Also, cover letters are generally single-page, but if you must add more information, just adjust the margins so you don’t have to add another page. In any case, be sure to use a basic font, such as Arial and Times New Roman, and the standard font size, which is 12.
While hiring managers deal with tons of applications everyday, don’t take it as a sign that they will overlook and forgive typos. In fact, even the smallest errors can be a deciding factor because let’s face it - typos only happen when you don’t care enough to review your document thoroughly, and employers usually take that as a big red flag when considering candidates.
So don’t take anything for granted. Go through your letter and make sure it’s free of grammar or spelling errors. After you’ve scanned it a few times, ask a friend to run through it a few times more. Sometimes, it takes someone else to see your mistakes (goes for other areas in your life too). When you ask someone else to proofread your cover letter, have them give you some overall feedback as well. Do they think you’ve made your point pretty clear? While you want to sound confident, you don’t them to think you're conceited or arrogant. Have your friends check on that as well.
Don’t forget to make sure that your heading is spot on - correct hiring manager’s name, correct company name, correct date, and all the rest. When it comes down to these details, there’s just no excuse for mistakes.
Offer Something New
This is a crucial yet often ignored point. When you write a cover letter, make it offer something that’s not already found in your resume. Of course, you can’t change the details - your background is your background, but frame your letter differently so that it still packages you as the best candidate but in a different light. This should set it apart from your resume while allowing both to each serve their specific purpose.
For instance, if you want to emphasize your skills and experience as a journalist, include in your cover letter a brief note on your most meaningful assignment as a student and how you pulled it off successfully. By adding figures, you can even show further how much value you can bring to the company. Say, you were assigned to an cover a disease epidemic in a community and educate people about mitigation measures they can do at home. To prove that you were effective in your role, you can include data that reflect a drop in the number of cases as a result of increased community awareness through your reporting. Just make sure any numbers you mention are verifiable or they will not hold water. Then again, this is a cover letter, so you need to be able to express your point as briefly yet effectively as possible.
One thing’s for sure - employers don’t like generic cover letters. It makes them feel you’re not serious enough about landing the job, much less doing it well when you’re finally hired. So make sure you send them a custom letter that contains the specific addressee’s name and position, the specific position you’re applying for, a specific tone to the letter that fits the nature of their business, and so on. In other words, do your research. Don’t just start tapping on your laptop without knowing the company you’re sending the letter to. They may not show it during the interview, but employers appreciate job seekers who take time out to get to know them. It says a lot about your character too, especially the kind of employee you could be.
Cover letters should be professional, but you don’t have to sound cold and distant or awkwardly formal. Let your words flow - naturally. Sentences like, “I want to express my deepest desire to secure a position in your most prestigious institution” just don’t cut it, and neither will clichés that hiring managers are probably sick of anyway. Instead of saying, “problem-solver,” why not write a line or two about an actual experience where you demonstrated that trait. Sometimes, you just have to be yourself to make employers see through you, your good intentions, and, of course, the true value that you can bring to their company. And that’s only possible with simple, straightforward language.
Make Sure Your Letter Gets Read
Lastly, none of the above makes sense if your cover letter never reaches its correct destination or gets there in the wrong form. Employers can be very specific about where and how they want to receive applications, and they’re usually quick to dismiss applicants who don’t follow instructions. Attention to detail is crucial in most positions, and this is one of the first tests that you will have to pass as a job seeker. So if the job ad says only physical applications will be entertained, believe it. If you’re supposed to email your cover letter and resume as separate attachments, don’t lump the two in one document. No matter how convenient that may be for you, it’s their rules that count.
There’s no doubt that hunting for your first job can be daunting. There’s just so much to consider, especially when it comes to writing a good cover letter. If you haven’t written any before, you’re probably uncertain about what to include or exclude, and how to structure your content. But there’s no reason to be intimidated as everyone has to start somewhere and employers are the first to know that. Still, that’s not an excuse for a poorly written and formatted cover letter. Even if you’re a first-timer, you’re expected to be responsible enough to know how it works.
As you try to improve your skills as a newbie job hunter, you may also find that there are many aspects unique to your situation, but there’s no need to get stuck in that vacuum. All job hunters are created equal as far as the need to leave a positive mark on hiring managers is concerned. In other words, all the classic rules still apply and will always apply, whether you’ve written a million cover letters or have only begin on your first. At some points along the way, if you feel discouraged after not receiving any favorable responses to the applications you’ve sent out, remember that this is just a phase. Maybe you just have to brush up on your overall job-hunting skills. If you persevere, you will eventually find a job that’s cut out perfectly just for you.