How to Write a Winning Cover Letter

Posted November 02, 2020

When it comes to the job search, far too many people skip over the cover letter, thinking it’s just an optional piece to the job search puzzle. Or, they take 5 minutes to create a very general letter that they reuse over and over again for every job.

A good cover letter can separate the serious-minded job seeker from the serial job applier. And our team of experts at Careerbliss know this to be a very good thing.

The Importance of the Cover Letter

While cover letters might sometimes seem like nothing more than a way for employers to slow down your job search and make you miserable, the fact is that they are actually incredibly helpful and even vital to the process. 

A survey of U.S. employers found that 42.9 percent wanted candidates to submit a cover letter, whereas only 29.8 percent felt that the cover letter was not important. Additionally, ninety-one percent of more than 1,000 executives queried say cover letters are either somewhat or very valuable when evaluating a job candidate. Ready to rethink that cover letter you threw together in 5 minutes?

Related - How Cover Letters can win you a Job? 

The Purpose of a Well-Written Cover Letter

Think about it: job recruiters don’t want to waste their time with a click-happy job seeker who doesn’t even take them a second to think about their company or if they’re right for the job. Writing a cover letter for a job you want forces you to sit down and really think through how your skills have prepared you for the job, and what you can bring to it. 

Cover letters also give employers a deeper look at you, allowing them to see past a bullet point list of accomplishments in your resume into who you are and what you’ve been doing with your life. It fleshes out the skeletal form of your resume, together creating a fuller image of who you are as a professional. They give insight into you--and as such are critical to making the perfect first impression.

The Careerbliss team has brought together the best of our resources to help you master, once and for all, the writing of a winning cover letter.

The Difference Between a Cover Letter and Resume

David Welsh, Managing Director of Richmond Solutions, parses out the difference between a cover letter and a resume like this:

"Think of a cover letter as a glass of brandy. It's a short measure, quite potent; you'll know very quickly if you like it or not and it's very easy to judge the quality. A resume is more like a glass of wine. It's a bit longer, and while it's (still) basically fermented fruit juice, it takes more time to grade."

In other words, use your cover letter as the narrative attention-grabber to you as a professional. Then, once the job recruiter knows they like you, they’ll be more likely to spend some time reviewing your resume and accomplishments.

Related - Are Cover Letters Still Relevant? 

What do Employers Look for in a Cover Letter?

Prospective employers want to see that you’ve done your due-diligence to leave no stone unturned. And one of the best ways to show this, aside from calling out your skills that they specifically mention in the job description, is to try to find the name of the person to address your cover letter to.

Research by Forum 3 found that those who addressed the cover letter to the person in charge of hiring were 15 percent more likely to receive a letter or email of acknowledgement. Additionally, those who included a cover letter with their resume were still 10 percent more likely to receive a reply, and 5 percent were more likely to gain an interview. Yep, doing your due-diligence can really pay off!

Furthermore, the 2010 Orange County Resume Survey came up with the following interesting statistics regarding cover letters:

  • 33 percent of employers looked for mention of the skills they asked for in the job description.
  • 26 percent looked for evidence of clarity in the applicant's writing (well-written, nicely-formatted, specifying the job applied for, etc).
  • 20 percent were seeking additional details about the applicant, on top of what they had learned from their resume (further accomplishments, explanation of any work gaps, etc).
  • 19 percent wanted an answer to the question, "Why should we hire you?"
  • 18 percent prioritized spelling and grammar above qualifying achievements.
  • 17 percent looked for personal vision and uniqueness in the cover letter.
  • 12 percent valued brevity, equating this with self-knowledge and business sense.

Basically, if you can convey that you’ve done your research and are actually interested in the job you’re applying for, you’ll automatically stand out from other job seekers hoping to be noticed. And the ones who stand out (in a good way) are the ones to whom the interview slots go.

Related - Impressive Opening Lines for Cover Letter 

The Basic Formula to Writing Your Winning Cover Letter

Many people feel lost when it comes to actually writing the cover letter. But now that you know all about the backstory and importance of the cover letter, you’ve got the upperhand. Now, you just need to flesh out this quick formula for a succinct 3-paragraph cover letter to elaborate why you’re the best person for the job. Here's a great guideline:

  • Introduce yourself and tell them why you're writing.
  • Match your qualifications to the job using specific examples.
  • Reiterate your qualifications, request an interview and let them know how you'll follow up.

If it seems basic, we know. The meat and potatoes of the cover letter come from your experiences and achievements. And now is the time to let them shine. Just remember that it’s vitally important to tailor every line and point of your cover letter to the job and employer you’re applying to. Don’t be a copy-paste kind of person--it will show, and hurt your chances at the job. Instead, think through why you’re even writing the cover letter, and make sure to explain that in the letter to that specific employer.

Related - Who do you Address your Cover letter to? 

The Keys to Mastering Cover Letter Writing

Address the Person Reading your Cover Letter by Name

We all like to hear our names. But addressing your cover letter reviewer by name actually is a very strategic move because it shows that you go the extra mile to find the details that aren’t always readily apparent. 

Whether you called the company to find out the name of the job recruiter or hiring manager, search LinkedIn or find some other creative way to acquire a name, your perseverance will shine through to your prospective employer.

Grab Their Attention Fast

In every job application, capturing a recruiters attention from the first moment is critical. And your cover letter is that vital first part of the puzzle that has to stand out if you’re going to go beyond the resume bin. 

If your cover letter doesn’t speak to them from the moment they lay eyes on it, there’s not much chance that they’ll care to read your well-written resume. So don’t depend on your resume alone to get you the job. 

Remember, the entire purpose of the cover letter is to give an employer a quick look at who you are and why you even want to apply for the job. If you don’t know or can’t convey why you’re the best candidate for the job, don’t expect an employer who doesn’t even know you to be able to figure it out. 

Remember that Brevity Matters

A recent survey of HR professionals shows why it is important to be concise. A majority of those from organizations with over 250 employees reported spending less than 30 seconds reading each cover letter. Recruiters in smaller companies spend slightly longer, up to 60 seconds, because they have fewer vacancies to fill. However, that is not much time in which to make an impression, so you need to make every word count.

So don’t stuff your cover letter with words to make you sound smart. Instead, just be smart and show it in how you write out your letter. 

Be Enthusiastic and Let it Show

Just because you need to use formal language, maintain a professional tone, and properly convey your ability to do the job doesn’t mean that you can’t also indicate what excites you about the role you’re applying for. And indeed you should. Skills and experience can get you far, but an enthusiasm and desire to learn can take you places you’d never imagined.

5 Key Points to Remember while writing Cover Letter

  • Don’t go on for more than three paragraphs (or one page). Be succinct in your word choices.
  • Leave plenty of “white space” to avoid overwhelming and frightening a recruiter out of reading a densely written letter.
  • Don’t use contractions or abbreviations. Write the entire word out to maintain your formal, professional voice.
  • Include industry phraseology or buzzwords if appropriate. Only a couple though - you don't want to sound as though you're trying too hard!
  • Double and triple-check your grammar, spelling and punctuation. You don’t want a carelessly placed (or missed) semicolon standing between you and your.

Generally speaking, the best cover letters are short, chock-full of insightful information and of course, well-written with plenty of due-diligence research. This will help you stand out from a crowd full of qualified people and make you somebody that people actually want to hire.

The CareerBliss Team

CareerBliss cares about your career happiness. That's why we offer a variety of great tools and resources to help you make better-informed career decisions. We believe that if you're happier at work, you'll be happier in life! Check out company reviews, salary information, career advice and, of course, millions of jobs on CareerBliss and choose happy today!

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