How to Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out

Simple Steps for Writing an Impressive Cover Letter

Writing a cover letter is one of the most challenging aspects of applying for a job. You can spend a lot of time and effort writing a perfect letter, but not know if anyone is going to read it. Unfortunately, they may not. But if they do, it may give you your only chance to pitch yourself as a good candidate for the job.

Writing a good cover letter can be hard work. You need to make sure it’s well written, shows the employer why you’re qualified, and doesn’t have any glaring errors that could cost you an interview. It’s definitely worth taking the time to make it shine.

If your cover letter stands out from the crowd of applicants, it can be the key to securing an interview.

How to Get Your Cover Letter Noticed

What’s the best way to get your cover letter noticed when the employer has to look through a pile of them? First of all, take the time to write a good one. Some hiring managers expect to receive a cover letter. In those cases, it should be mentioned in the job posting. Even if it’s not required, though, a well-written cover letter gives you the opportunity to sell your credentials to the company and to show them why you’d be a good fit for the job.

A CareerBuilder survey reports that 40% of employers are more likely to pay attention when a cover letter is included with an application. Another CareerBuilder survey notes that 10% of hiring managers wouldn't hire a candidate who didn't include a cover letter.

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Watch Now: 7 Ways Your Cover Letter Can Get You Hired

What Not to Include in Your Cover Letter

You want your cover letter to stand out for the right reasons. There are some things you shouldn’t include in your cover letter if you want to make a good impression. It's not helpful to include personal information or mention how you left your last job. Stay focused on the job at hand and your qualifications for it.

Finally, never include salary requirements unless the employer specifically requests that you do. Even then, be careful how you respond. You don’t want to knock yourself out of contention for the job because you’re asking for too much money. You also don’t want to get an offer for less than you’re worth.

Get the Cover Letter Basics Right

There are some quick and easy steps that you can take to write a cover letter that will impress the hiring manager. Take a look at these tips and see which ones will work best for you. Even a few small changes can make a big difference.

Choose the Right Type of Letter

Before you start writing a cover letter, be sure that you’ve chosen the right type of letter. The style will be different depending on whether you’re writing a letter to send or upload with a resume, inquiring about job openings, or mentioning a referral.

Find a Contact Person

If you can find a contact person for your cover letter, you will be able to personalize it, and you’ll have someone to follow up with to make sure your letter gets noticed. If you can’t find someone, don’t worry: There are other options you can use to start your letter.

Include a Referral

A referral can put in a good word and help you get hired. It’s worth taking a few minutes to see if you know anyone who can refer you to the job. Check your LinkedIn network, your college alumni network, and your Facebook friends to identify anyone who works at the company who could refer you. If you find someone, here’s how to ask them for a referral.

Choose a Basic Font

Pick a font that’s easy to read. Times New Roman, Arial, Calibri, and other similar non-script, sans-serif fonts work well for body text. Size is important too—make your text too small and the hiring manager won't want to make the effort. Depending on the font, somewhere between 10- and 12-point font size is usually best.

Keep It Short and Simple

Cover letters don’t need to be long. In fact, all a lengthy letter will do is make the reader’s eyes glaze over. A few paragraphs are plenty, and your letter should never be longer than a single page. If your letter is too long, don’t use a smaller font. Edit and cut words instead.

Leave Plenty of White Space

Another way to improve readability is to include spaces between the greeting, paragraphs, and your signature.

It’s much easier to read a well-spaced letter than it is to skim one that has too much information crammed into too little space.

Use Bullets

Using a bulleted list is another way to get information noticed in your letter. Paragraphs tend to blur together, but bullets draw the reader’s eyes to the content on the page. Make sure each bullet point is short and starts with an action word.

Show the Employer That You’re a Fit

One of the most important steps to writing a cover letter that stands out is showing the company that you’re a professional candidate who meets the job requirements. When you do so, you’ll make it easier for the hiring manager to decide that you’d be a candidate worth interviewing.

Match Your Cover Letter to Your Resume

Choose the same font for both your resume and cover letter, and your application will look polished and professional. Don’t mix and match fonts. It’s fine to have a different font for your page headers, but be consistent with the font you use in your cover letter and resume content.

Match Your Skills With the Job Qualifications

One of the most important ways to get your cover letter noticed is to make a clear match between the job requirements listed in the help wanted ad and your credentials. Don’t expect the employer to figure it out. If you do it for them, it will up your chances of getting an interview.

Highlight Your Most Relevant Skills

Don’t use your cover letter to rehash and repeat everything in your resume. This is an opportunity to focus on the specific skills and attributes you have that will benefit the employer. Focus your letter on the top few skills that best qualify you for the job.

Customize Your Letter

It’s not worth sending a cover letter that isn’t targeted. This is your pitch to get an interview, so take the time to customize your letter, mention a referral if you have one, and share your strongest qualifications for the job. Don't use the same basic cover letter for every job application.

Close With Your Follow-Up Plan

If you have a contact person, mention how you will follow up with them. Whether you have a contact person or not, include your contact information so it’s easy for the employer to get in touch. Then add a closing and your name, and you’re almost done.

Make Sure Your Cover Letter Is Perfect

Before you send your letter, you should review every detail carefully. Even a small typo could be enough to take your application out of consideration for the job.

Check for Typos and Grammatical Errors

Don’t click send or upload your letter before you have taken the time to thoroughly proofread it. Spelling and grammar checkers such as Grammarly are great, but they won't catch everything. Read your letter out loud, and you may pick up some more mistakes. You can even try reading it backward to really focus your attention.

Include an Email Signature

When you email a cover letter, be sure to include a signature with your name, phone number, email address, and LinkedIn profile URL if you have one. That will make it easy for the recruiter to get in touch with you.

Email It to Yourself

There’s one more thing to do before you send your letter: Email a copy to yourself for a final check. Make sure the formatting is just as you want it—and proofread it one more time.

Key Takeaways

  • Your cover letter is an opportunity. Even if it’s not required, a cover letter is an opportunity to pitch your credentials for the job.
  • Make a match. Your goal in writing your cover letter is to match your skills, experience, and qualifications to the employer’s job requirements.
  • Pay attention to the details. Double-check to be sure you’ve got all the details right, including the spelling of the job title, hiring manager, and the name of the organization.

Article Sources

  1. CareerBuilder. "How to Create a Cover Letter That Gets Attention." Accessed May 22, 2020.

  2. CareerBuilder. "Employers Share Their Most Outrageous Resume Mistakes and Instant Deal Breakers." Accessed May 22, 2020.

  3. CareerOneStop. "How Do I Write a Cover Letter?" Accessed May 22, 2020.

  4. SHRM. "Employee Referrals Remain Top Source for Hires," Accessed May 22, 2020.

  5. Pressbook. "Formatting Font for Readability." Accessed May 22, 2020.