Writing a Strong Cover Letter

Watch 5 steps to a great cover letter video:

  1. Make it personal and use their name 0:34
  2. Tell them why you genuinely picked them, not how awesome you are 1:12
  3. Tell them why they should pick you and use examples on how you will add value to their business 3:47
  4. Show them how much you “want it” 4:34
  5. Show kindness and compassion 5:44

10 Tips for an Awesome Cover Letter

  1. Include the Hiring Manager’s Name
    The most traditional way to address a cover letter is to use the person’s first and last name, including “Mr.” or “Ms.” (for example, “Dear Ms. Jane Smith” or just “Dear Ms. Smith”). If you know for sure that the company or industry is more casual, you can drop the title and last name (“Dear Jane”). And if you’re not 100% positive whether to use “Mr.” or “Ms.” based on the name and some Googling, definitely skip the title.
    •   Never use generic salutations like “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam”—they’re stiff, archaic, and did we mention that cover letters need to be customized?
    •   If you can’t figure out the specific hiring manager’s name, try addressing your cover letter to the head of the department for the role you’re applying for.
    •   Or if you honestly can’t find a single real person to address your letter to, aim for something that’s still somewhat specific, like “Systems Engineer Hiring Manager” or “Account Executive Search Committee.”
    For more help, read these rules for addressing your cover letter, and a few tips for how to find the hiring manager.
  2. Craft a Killer Opening Line
    No need to lead with your name—the hiring manager can see it already on your resume. It’s good to mention the job you’re applying for (the hiring manager may be combing through candidates for half a dozen different jobs), and yes, you could go with something simple like, “I am excited to apply for [job] with [Company].” But consider introducing yourself with a snappy first sentence that highlights your excitement about the company you’re applying to, your passion for the work you do, or your past accomplishments.
    **Need inspiration? Check out these 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.
  3. Go Beyond Your Resume
    A super common pitfall many job seekers fall into is to use their cover letter to regurgitate what’s on their resume. Don’t simply repeat yourself: “I was in charge of identifying and re-engaging former clients.” Instead, expand on those bullet points to paint a fuller picture of your experiences and accomplishments, and show off why you’d be perfect for the job and the company. For example: “By analyzing past client surveys, NPS scores, and KPIs, as well as simply picking up the phone, I was able to bring both a data-driven approach and a human touch to the task of re-engaging former clients.”
    Having trouble figuring out how to do this? Try asking yourself these questions:
    •   What approach did you take to tackling one of the responsibilities you’ve mentioned on your resume?
    •   What details would you include if you were telling someone a (very short!) story about how you accomplished that bullet point?
    •   What about your personality, passion, or work ethic made you especially good at getting the job done?
  4. Think Not What the Company Can Do for You
    Another 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. Try to identify the company’s pain points—the problem or problems that they need the person they hire to solve. Then emphasize the skills and experience you have that make you the right person to solve them.
  5. Highlight the Right Experiences
    Not sure what skills and experiences you should be featuring? Typically the most important requirements for the position will be listed first in the job description, or mentioned more than once. You’ll want to make sure you describe how you can deliver on those key priorities.
    Another trick: Drop the text of the job description into a word cloud tool like WordClouds, and see what stands out. That’s what the hiring manager is looking for most.
  6. Showcase Your Skills
    When you know you have the potential to do the job—but your past experience doesn’t straightforwardly sell you as the perfect person for the position—try focusing on your skills instead. That skills-based template we mentioned before will help you do just that. (Psst: You can also take this approach with a skills-based resume.)
    … New grads, especially, often 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 one.
  7. Don’t Apologize for Your Missing Experience
    When you don’t meet all of the job requirements, it’s tempting to use lines like, “Despite my limited experience as a manager…” or “While I may not have direct experience in marketing…” But why apologize? Instead of drawing attention to your weaknesses, emphasize the strengths and transferable skills you do have.
    Here’s what that might look like: “I’m excited to translate my experience in [what you’ve done in the past] to a position that’s more [what you’re hoping to do next].”
  8. Throw in a Few Numbers
    Hiring managers love to see stats—they show you’ve had a measurable impact on an organization or company you’ve worked for. That doesn’t mean you have to have doubled revenue at your last job. Did you bring in more clients than any of your peers? Put together an impressive number of events? Made a process at work 30% more efficient? Those numbers speak volumes about what you could bring to your next position, and make your cover letter stand out.
    You don’t even have to have worked with numbers at all! Check out a few more tips for adding stats to those resume bullets, even if your previous jobs involved dealing with people, not figures.
  9. Consider Testimonials
    Used sparingly, great feedback from former co-workers, managers, or clients can go a long way toward illustrating your passion or skills.
    Here’s an example of how you might weave it in: “When I oversaw our last office move, my color-coded spreadsheets covering every minute detail of the logistics were legendary; my manager said I was so organized, she’d trust me to plan an expedition to Mars.”
  10. 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.

View this cover letter guide developed by Career Center professionals and learn formatting, content, and helpful tips that will help you make a good first impression with a potential employer.  Find out the key information to include and what to focus on.

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