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Ask A Manager Good Cover Letter

Ah, the dreaded cover letter. Every time you sit down to write one, you probably browse cover letter examples online, get overwhelmed, and think something to the effect of: Does anyone really read these? Wouldn’t it be so much easier if I could just let my resume speak for itself?

First off: Yes, we can assure you that cover letters do, in fact, get read. In fact, to some hiring managers, they’re the most important part of your application. And yes, while it would be easier to let your resume speak for itself, if that was the case you’d completely miss the opportunity to tell prospective employers who you are, showcase why they should hire you, and stand out above all the other candidates.

Ready to get started? To make sure your cover letter is in amazing shape (and is as painless as possible to write), we’ve compiled our 31 best cover letter tips of all time into one place.

Read on—then get cover letter writing.

1. Don’t Regurgitate Your Resume

Instead of just repeating yourself (“I was in charge of reviewing invoice disputes”), use your cover letter to describe additional details that you weren’t able to squeeze onto the single page of your resume: “By resolving invoice disputes, I gained a deep analytical knowledge—but more importantly, I learned how to interact calmly and diplomatically with angry customers.” A cover letter gives you the freedom to use full sentences—instead of bullet points—so use them to expand upon your resume points and tell the story of why you’re the perfect fit for the company.

2. Think Not What the Company Can Do for You

A common cover letter mistake? Talking about how great the position would be for you and your resume. Frankly, hiring managers are aware of that—what they really want to know is what you’re going to bring to the position and company. On that note:

3. Clearly Show What You’re Capable Of

Beyond explaining what you’ve done in the past, show hiring managers what you can do in the future. “Determine the key requirements and priorities for this job, and make it instantly clear to the reviewer that you can deliver the goods on these key things,” says Jenny Foss, job search expert and founder of JobJenny.com. “Consider crafting a section within the letter that begins with, ‘Here’s what, specifically, I can deliver in this role.’ And then expound upon your strengths in a few of the priority requirements for that role.”

4. Showcase Your Skills

When you know you have the potential to do the job—but your past experience doesn’t totally sell you as the perfect one for the position—try focusing on your skills, instead. Here’s a template that helps you do just that.

5. …Not Necessarily Your Education

Many new grads make the mistake of over-focusing on their educational backgrounds. At the end of the day, what hiring managers care about most is your work experience (and yes, that can be volunteer or internship experience, too)—and what you can walk through the door and deliver on Day 1.

6. Don’t Apologize for Skills You Don’t Have

When you don’t meet all of the job requirements, it’s common for job seekers to use lines like, “Despite my limited experience with marketing…” or “While I only have work experience doing administrative tasks…” But why apologize? Instead of drawing attention to your weaknesses, try to focus on the skills you do have, says career expert Lily Zhang. “Stay positive, focus on your strengths, and immediately launch into your transferable skills and infectious enthusiasm for the position.”

7. Highlight the Right Experiences

Not sure what skills and experiences you should be featuring? Drop the text of the job description into a word cloud tool like Wordle, and see what stands out. That’s what the hiring manager is looking for most.

8. Tell a Story

What brings you to this company? Did you used to sing along to all of its commercials as a kid? Did the product make some incredible difference in your life? Do you sometimes pull into the parking lot and daydream about what it would feel like to work there? Stories bring your background and experiences to life, so feel free to tell them. (Just, you know, keep them short and to the point.)

9. Use a Few Numbers

When it comes to the job search, numbers often speak louder than words. “Offer stats to illustrate your impact on companies or associations you’ve worked for in the past,” suggests career expert and founder of ProfessionGalMegan Broussard. “Employers love to see numbers—it shows them that you speak their language and that you understand what they’re looking for in an employee: results.”

10. Consider Testimonials

If you have great feedback from old co-workers, bosses, or clients, don’t be afraid to use it! A seamless way to integrate a positive quote from a previous manager or client is to use it as evidence of your passion for your area of expertise. For example, “I have developed a keen interest in data science during my years working various political campaigns (as my past supervisor once said, I love Excel more than anyone she knows).”

11. Cut the Formality

“Don’t be overly formal (‘I wish to convey my interest in filling the open position at your fine establishment’),” writes career expert Mark Slack. “It makes you seem insincere and even robotic, not anything like the friendly, approachable, and awesome-to-work-with person you are.

12. Think Custom, Not Canned

Most companies want to see that you’re truly excited about the position and company, which means creating a custom letter for each position you apply for. “When a recruiter reads, ‘Dear Hiring Manager, I am so excited to apply for the open position at your company, where I hope to utilize my skills to progress in my career,’ he or she immediately recognizes it for what it is—a stock cover letter that you’ve mass-distributed to every place in town,” says Muse career expert Katie Douthwaite. And then probably throws it in the trash.

13. Start With a Template

That said, there’s nothing that says you can’t get a little help. Our easy, downloadable cover letter guide will walk you through, step-by-step, how to create a cover letter that rocks.

14. …Or Some Inspiration

Having trouble getting started? Check out 31 examples of how to start your cover letter in an engaging, attention-grabbing way or these eight examples of awesome cover letters that actually worked.

Give yourself a little (or big) boost by running your application by an expert

Talk to a Cover Letter Coach Today

15. Be Open to Other Formats

If you’re applying to a more traditional company, then the tried-and-true three-to-five-paragraph format probably makes sense. However, if you’re gunning for a more creative or startup job—or need to explain to the hiring manager, say, how your career has taken you from teaching to business development, a different approach could be appropriate. Here at The Muse, we’ve seen cover letters use bullet points, tell stories, or showcase videos to (successfully) get their point across. This professional even turned hers into a BuzzFeed-style list!

16. But Don’t Go Too Far

Like this guy did. Just—don’t.

17. Consider Adding a Headline

One formatting idea from The Undercover Recruiter? Add an eye-catching headline to your letter, like “3 Reasons I’m an Excellent Fit for the Marketing Manager Position.” Again, no one says you have to follow the tried-and-true format, and this can be an easy way to catch the hiring manager’s eye quickly.

18. Be Real

“Honest, genuine writing always goes much, much further than sticking to every dumb rule you’ve ever read in stale, outdated career guides and college textbooks,” explains Foss.

19. ...And Normal

We can’t tell you how many cover letters we’ve seen from people who are “absolutely thrilled for the opportunity” or “very excitedly applying!” Downplay the adverbs a bit, and just write like a normal person.

20. Cut the Fluff

Avoid, at all costs, describing yourself as a “team player” or a “people person,” says Broussard. “Instead, show off your skills with descriptive statements like ‘I’m an expert communicator with experience bringing together diverse departments to develop a cohesive program.’ It’s longer—but it’s also stronger.”

21. Write in the Company’s “Voice”

Cover letters are a great way to show that you understand the environment and culture of the company and industry and prove that you’ve got what they are looking for. So, always keep in mind who will be reading your cover letter, and tailor it to what you know will get them excited. Spending five or 10 minutes reading over the company website before you get started can be a great way to get in the right mindset—you’ll get a sense for the company’s tone, language, and culture, which are all things you’ll want to mirror as you’re writing.

22. Boost Your Confidence Before Writing

Writing guru Alexandra Franzen offers a simple mind trick that will dramatically change the way you write cover letters: Pretend. “Pretend that the person you’re writing to already loves and respects you. Pretend that the person you’re writing to already believes that you’re worthy and valuable. Pretend that the person you’re writing to doesn’t need a big sales pitch,” she explains. Then, write. Your words will come out so much easier. (Here’s more on how to do it.)

23. Have Some Fun With It

News flash: Cover letter writing doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, there are plenty of ways to spice it up! Hoping for a job at a startup? Making your cover letter more creative—whether you use a spunkier tone, play with the format, or make it more visual—will likely improve your chances of getting a call back. Applying for a corporate position? Stick with the traditional format, but make it more conversational, or include a story about how you first came in contact with the company or how much you love it. Much more fun, right? (Here are a few other ways to make cover letter writing suck less.)

24. Don’t Let Your Fear of Bragging Get in the Way

If you tend to have a hard time writing about yourself, here’s a quick trick: Imagine you’re someone else writing a letter about yourself. Think from the perspective of a friend, mentor, or previous employer—someone who would only sing your praises—and then write the letter from her point of view. If it helps, you can even write the letter in third person (i.e. “Erin would be a great fit for this position because…”). Just make sure you’re very careful about going back through and changing it to first person when you’re done!

25. Have Someone Gut Check It

Have a friend take a look at your cover letter, and ask him or her two questions: Does this sell me as the best person for the job? and Does it get you excited? If the answer to either is “no,” or even slight hesitation, go back for another pass.

26. Keep it Short and Sweet

There are always exceptions to the rule, but in general, for resumes and cover letters alike, don’t go over a page. “According to the Orange County Resume Survey, almost 70% of employers either want a half page cover letter (250 words) or ‘the shorter the better,’ approach,” writes Slack.

27. Don’t Start With Your Name

Because, well, the hiring manager can see it already on your resume. Get right to the point with what you can bring to the job.

28. But Do Include the Hiring Manager’s Name

Use the person’s first and last name, including a “Mr.” or “Ms.” (e.g., Mr. Jack Smith). Never use “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear or Sir or Madam”—nothing could be more generic (not to mention archaic). For more on addressing it correctly, read these cover letter rules.

29. Unless You Don’t Know It

OK, sometimes, even after hours of online searching (try these tips), you still might not be able to definitively figure out who exactly the hiring manager for the position you’re applying for is. If you can only find a list of executives and you’re not completely confident who the hiring manager is, use the head of the department for the position you’re applying for. If you really don’t have a name to use, try to still be as specific as possible in your greeting. Consider using “Senior Analyst Hiring Manager” or “Research Manager Search Committee”—something that shows that you’ve written this letter with a particular audience in mind.

30. Edit

We shouldn’t have to tell you to run your cover letter through spell-check, but here’s an even better step: Check out how the wording sounds to others using Hemingway. Drop your text onto the page, and the color-coded app will give your writing a once-over. Is a sentence too wordy, overly complex, or totally unreadable? It’ll be highlighted in red until you revise it. Tend to overuse the passive voice? Every instance of it will show up in green. The site will even recommend when you can use shorter or simpler words (Why take up precious resume space with “utilize” when you can say “use?”).

31. But Care Most About Standing Out

Perhaps the best piece of cover letter wisdom we can offer you comes from Foss: The most memorable cover letters are written by people who care less about the rules and more about standing out to the hiring manager. “Next time you sit down to write a cover letter, vow to not get uptight about all the tiny little ‘rules’ you’ve picked up along the way,” she writes. “Instead, buck convention. Be memorable. Nail the stuff that will make you a true standout.”

Cover letters might seem quaint in an era when you're almost always applying for jobs online — and the first reader of your application may be a computer scanning your resume for keywords. But in reality, introductory messages or emails are a lot more important than you may realize.

Done right, your cover letter can be the factor that makes or breaks you during the interview-selection process. "It's an opportunity to stand out", Brooklyn Resume Studio's Dana Leavy-Detrick, said in a phone interview.

Cover letters personalize your application, showcase your writing skills and demonstrate that you are more than the sum of accomplishments chronicled on your resume. Rule number one: Don't be boring. It's "your first and best chance at hooking your reader," Caroline Ceniza-Levine, career expert at SixFigureStart, told Mic by email. So make it count.

Your cover letter also needs to answer four essential questions, as Stanford Business School explains:

1. Why you are interested in the position?
2. What are your qualifications?
3. Why would you be a good fit in the company?
4. Most importantly, what value you would add?

Not sure exactly how to start? You can translate these items into a brief, four-paragraph cover letter, as follows:

1. Break the ice

The introductory paragraph, like the conclusion, should be brief. Start with "Hello" or "Dear," followed by the person's first name. "Having an actual name is the ideal scenario, so that you can personalize the letter," Leavy-Detrick said.

If you work in a more formal industry, or the hiring contact is listed with the honorific Mr., Ms. or Mrs. in front of their name, go ahead and use that followed by their last name. If you don't have a name, play it safe and write "Dear Hiring Manager" or just "Hello" — though finding a real person is always best, even if it requires a little search over Google or LinkedIn, or an introduction by a mutual friend. Definitely avoid "Dear Sir or Madam" or "To Whom It May Concern," as both have a more antiquated feel.

Then start strong with the most impactful information, which should be a one- or two-sentence summary of the position you are applying for and why you're uniquely qualified. Here's an example:

Dear Jane,

I am excited to apply for the role of Senior Recruiter at Your Business Inc., after being referred to the opening by my friend and former colleague CTO John Smith. With three years of human resources consulting experience — and advanced training in organizational development, and leadership coaching — I believe I can bring value to the position by identifying and bringing in top talent, and helping to train other recruiting staff to hire and retain great employees.

Not too hard, right?

2. Next, brag a little — the right way

In the second paragraph, you want to talk about your qualifications. Don't be bashful — but do supply substantive evidence to support your assertions. If you mentioned that you're an "award-winning" manager, state what award you won and why you won it. Here's an excerpt from a real cover letter posted on Alison Green's Ask a Manager blog:

My greatest achievement was the document execution escalation procedure I created, which was used by our department. One of my supervisors gave me the moniker of “escalation guru” due to my tenacity in getting affidavits back on time.

"It works because it’s so customized to the writer," Green noted about the sample cover letter.

Another trick is to use bullet points to highlight key qualifications and accomplishments. LiveCareer recommends a structure like the following:

What makes me different from other applicants?

I conceived and implemented a new training program now used by all 250 of Pretty Good Company Inc's employees
• My excellent rapport with clients and fellow employees contributed to my promotion in 6 months at Not Bad Company Inc — a company record
I work well under pressure, having successfully written a comprehensive health systems training manual in 3 weeks, well ahead of schedule

Don't try to sound like anyone else. Be distinctive, and you'll be much more likely to get called in for an interview. Humor can work, as you should show off your personality — but don't make it your go-to move. When in doubt, run it by a friend to see if it sounds forced... or worse: not actually funny.

3. Prove you're the perfect match

The third paragraph is where you show that you've actually read the job description carefully and can explain in greater depth what you would plan to do once you've got the job. You'll also want to cite a specific example of something the company has done or is doing that attracted you to them and the position. For example:

I believe these skills and experiences will make me an asset to Great Company Inc, especially as it looks to push into the health care space. The Senior Health Trainer role meets my objectives of growing and developing as a health care training expert, a niche I have been cultivating in my last two roles at Pretty Good Company Inc and Not Bad Company Inc.

You can also show that you understand the company well by researching interesting projects they've been involved in, or reviewing press mentions to see where they are in the industry. "Go the extra mile and find a unique detail that you can connect back to your experience," Leavy-Detrick said.

For example:

I recently read in Hacker News that Spotify is partnering with global digital rights agency Merlin to ensure that more independent musicians are represented on Spotify's platform. As a long-time musician myself, I am especially drawn to the idea of working with emerging artists to better connect them with both their core fans and new listeners. 

4. End with an "action phrase"

You need to give the hiring manager a reason to get back to you, so end with something like, "I look forward to your response" or "I look forward to speaking with you further about my background and qualifications," Leavy-Detrick recommended. And make sure to conclude with a sincere "thank you" or "thank you so much" — to further show your gratitude and interest.

Lastly, be sure to provide all relevant contact information like your email address and phone number. You need not link to your LinkedIn page, but you should definitely have it up to date when you're applying, since many recruiters check them when reviewing applications.

Then give the letter one last read for typos before hitting the send button.

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