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When you are writing a cover letter to accompany your resume as part of a job application, it’s important to make sure that every word counts. Your cover letter should enhance the employer’s view of your qualifications, so you can move from being an applicant to an interviewee.
Types of Keywords
Keywords are a vital element of a persuasive cover letter, as they’re capable of portraying a candidate as a highly qualified applicant for a job. These words fall into three general categories: skill words, results-oriented words, and words that show recognition for achievements.
This matching process is often performed by automated applicant tracking systems (ATSs), programmed to identify specific keywords and to rank all resumes accordingly before they even reach a hiring manager. If your cover letter and resume lack these keywords, they may be automatically cut from consideration at this stage of the evaluation.
Secondly, keywords that are incorporated into a cover letter will show the hiring manager how and why you are highly qualified for the job, allowing them to rank you among your competition and, ideally, to offer one of their interview slots to you.
Examples of skill keywords include: wrote, analyzed, quantified, planned, programmed, designed, created, built, taught, and trained.
For example, instead of saying “Quantitative stock analysis is an asset which I would bring to your firm,” you could say:
I utilized quantitative stock valuation techniques to create a portfolio for high net worth clients, which beat the market for three consecutive years.
The skills keywords included in your cover letters (and your resume) will help your application get selected by the software employers use to select candidates for further consideration. They will also show the hiring manager, at first glance, what skills you have that are related to the job for which he or she is hiring.
All employers are looking for employees who will add value and generate positive results for their organizations. That’s why it’s critical to integrate results-oriented language into your cover letters. Think about the bottom line for each job on your resume and how you might have made things better in your role.
Your cover letter should showcase your accomplishments, not just your skills or personal qualities. Providing these details will help to set your letter apart from those of other candidates who don’t highlight their professional achievements.
Examples of results-oriented keywords include: increased, reduced, redesigned, upgraded, initiated, implemented, reformulated, generated, and produced.
Results-oriented words are most effective when coupled with some numbers which quantify your impact, as in:
I reduced turnover among first-year hires by 20% by implementing a mentoring system.
By using these types of keywords, you are clearly showing what you accomplished in your previous roles.
Hiring managers will be more likely to believe that you will be an outstanding performer if it is clear that previous employers have viewed you in this way. One way to do this is to incorporate language which demonstrates that employers have recognized your contributions.
Examples of recognition related keywords include: honored, awarded, promoted, selected, lauded for, received a bonus for, recognized, chosen, and credited.
Ideally, recognition phrases will include the type of individual who noted your achievement and the basis for your recognition. For example, you might say:
I was designated as the team leader for the budget reduction task force by my Division Vice President, based on my previous record of accruing cost savings.
Recognition keywords attest to how you have excelled in your previous jobs and how you have accomplished more than was required.
Take the Time to Make a Match
When you’re choosing keywords to include in your cover letter, an easy way to find the best words to use is to match your qualifications to those listed in the job listing. Highlight your strongest assets, so you can show the employer why you’re well-qualified for the job and deserving of an interview.
One of the slyest tricks you’ll come across on a job application is the part where it says that attaching a cover letter is optional.
Sure, some companies genuinely may not care if you include a cover letter, otherwise known as a letter of application, or not, but most hiring managers use this as a way to weed out applicants long before anyone in HR starts sending out emails. They know candidates that care about the job will go the extra mile, and the cover letter is your chance to make a strong first impression.
Although there are as many ways to write a cover letter as there are to skin a cat, the best way is often the simplest way.
In this article, we’ll show you how to write a cover letter that will send your job application to the top of the pile and land you that first crucial phone screen or first interview.
Here are 10 things you need to know about writing a great cover letter. Let’s get into it!
1. What’s the Point of Writing a Cover Letter?
In brief, your job cover letter is a way to tell the people that you want to hire you why they should hire you. It should illustrate your fitness for the role, your professionalism, and your competence, all while revealing a little bit of your personality.
It’s also your opportunity to provide some context for what’s in your resume, explaining anything your resume leaves out and highlighting the parts of your resume that are most relevant to the role.
Sound tough? We promise, it’s not that hard, and once you get the basics down, it’s easy to modify your cover letter slightly for each role, so it’s as relevant as possible to the exact job you’re applying for.
2. How Long Should a Cover Letter Be?
As with resumes, cover letters shouldn’t exceed one page in length; any longer and you risk turning off the hiring manager before they’ve even glanced at your resume.
In terms of word count, this means that you should be aiming for around 500 words.
As a rule of thumb, try to stick to around three paragraphs (four at most), not counting the salutation and sign-off.
Apply today for immediate consideration!
3. What Should a Job Cover Letter Include?
A great cover letter for a job application includes the following parts:
An address and salutation
An introduction that tells the hiring manager who you are and what role you’re applying for
A statement about your interest in the role, and why you’re the best person for the job
A brief section outlining your qualifications and relevant past experience
A quick conclusion that reiterates your interest in the job, the best ways to reach you, and closes with a friendly but professional sign-off
4. What’s the Proper Format for a Cover Letter?
A basic cover letter for a job application should look something like this:
As you can see, the cover letter includes your name, address, and contact information at the top, followed by the date and the recipient’s name and address. The body of the cover letter (again, three paragraphs should do the job) should all fit on one page with room for your sign-off.
(Protip: You can find this and other cover letter templates in Microsoft Word.)
5. What Salutation and Sign-Off Should You Use in a Cover Letter?
As a general rule, you should tailor the language, style, and tone of your cover letter to the type of role and company to which you’re applying. A cover letter for a job at a prestigious law firm, for example, would be very different from a cover letter for a part-time retail position.
“I say, old chap, did that candidate address you as ‘sir’ just a moment ago? I like the cut of his jib.”
That said, the basic salutation that works in almost any situation is “Dear Mr./Ms. [Name].” If you don’t know the hiring manager’s name, you can use a generic salutation like “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Recruiting Manager.” ( Experts recommend avoiding “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam” as they sound antiquated.)
Note: You should also avoid using “Mrs.” when addressing a female hiring manager, even if you know for a fact that she’s married. Use the politely ambiguous “Ms.” instead.
As a sign-off, stick to something simple and professional like “Sincerely” or “Regards.”
6. How Should Your Open Your Cover Letter?
Typically, a cover letter introduction (the first paragraph) should accomplish three goals. It should tell the reader:
Who you are
Why you’re writing to the recipient
Why that person should continue reading
“My name is Dan Shewan, and I am writing to apply for the position of Staff Writer.”
Although there are a few “clever” ways to open your cover letter, most tend to be pretty formulaic. For example:
If you happen to be a referral or you know someone at the company, this would be a good place to mention that, i.e. “My name is Dan Shewan, and I am writing to apply for the position of Staff Writer, which I heard about from your magazine’s editorial assistant, Jane Doe.”
“With more than a decade of editorial experience across a wide range of publications in print and online, I believe I would be an excellent candidate for the role.”
We still need to deal with the third objective of our cover letter’s introduction, though, which is to give the recipient a reason to keep reading. This is where you get a chance to mention how awesome you are:
By including this line, I’m giving the hiring manager that reason to keep reading. I mention how long I’ve been doing what I do, offer a glimpse of the kind of experience they’ll see on my resume, and conclude with a strong, confident statement of intent.
At this point, I’m ready to segue into the real meat of my cover letter.
7. What Goes in the Body of a Letter of Application?
Remember, cover letters are an opportunity to prove you can be the very specific individual that the hiring manager is looking for. This is what the body of your cover letter, the second paragraph, should illustrate.
A great way to do this is to picture yourself in the hiring manager’s shoes.
“It says here you can walk AND chew gum. I’m impressed – so impressed I’m going to continue leaning on my keyboard with my elbow absentmindedly.”
The hiring manager responsible for screening candidates probably has someone pretty specific in mind. She knows what her ideal candidate’s major was at college, what specific skills they have, how many years they’ve been in their field, and the kind of projects they’ve worked on. When it comes to cover letters, hiring managers are looking for one thing – relevance. In short, the hiring manager knows exactly who she’s looking for.
Your cover letter is an opportunity to prove that you are that person, by aligning yourself perfectly with the hiring manager’s idea of her dream candidate.
The second paragraph of your cover letter (which should be the longest and most substantial part) is where you should do that. Tell the recipient, in about 5-7 sentences, why you’re the absolute best person for the job, by highlighting specific elements of your education and past job or life experience that you can bring to the table.
If you’re truly passionate about the job and your field, make sure that shows! Nobody wants to hire someone who’s just desperate for a job, any job.
Here’s an example of a great cover letter body via Ask a Manager:
Notice how the cover letter backs up claims (like “fanatic for details”) with specific examples and evidence ($1.5 million grant award).
8. How Closely Should Your Cover Letter Match the Job Description?
Because the person making the decision on who to hire knows what they want, it’s a good idea to look for clues in the job description and mirror those back in your cover letter.
“Must have a Master’s degree or greater, 10+ years of professional experience. Starting salary of $35,000 per annum.”
Tailoring cover letters to the requirements laid out in the job description is one of the best ways to set yourself apart from the competition. In fact, many companies actually use software that scans applicants’ cover letters for specific keywords or phrases from the job description, and failing to include these keywords could exclude you from consideration altogether before the real screening process even begins. This is another reason why matching your cover letter to the job description is so crucial.
We get it: If you’ve been out of work for even a moderate length of time, applying for jobs can be a soul-destroying grind, and after a few months on the market, it’s easy to see why so many people fail to customize every single cover letter they send out, especially if they’re playing a numbers game by applying to dozens of companies every week.
Don’t make this mistake!
Because the hiring manager has done the lion’s share of the thinking for you, the easiest way to make your cover letter more relevant to the specific job you’re applying for is to “mirror” the structure of the job spec in the cover letter. Let’s say you’re applying for an opening for an office and events coordinator role. Here are some of the key job functions and requirements:
“As an experienced events coordinator with considerable expertise in the planning and execution of ambitious corporate events including customer functions, conferences, and executive meetings, I believe I would be an excellent candidate for the role.”
You should use exact terms and language from this list in your cover letter to describe your own applicable experience and skills.
For example, you could open your cover letter with something like this:
“In 2016, I was responsible for the travel and accommodation arrangements of 40 staff members traveling from San Diego, CA to Boston, MA for the INBOUND marketing conference. My primary responsibilities included negotiating with commercial airlines to secure cost-effective flights, handling individual needs such as unique dietary requirements for several delegates for the duration of their stay, and liaising with several nationwide logistics firms to ensure conference booth materials were delivered and set up on time. As a result, we achieved a 35% reduction in year-over-year travel and accommodation expenditure, and secured a more favorable rate with a more efficient nationwide logistics operator.”
Notice how the list of events from the first bullet point is mirrored here?
Mad props to HubSpot’s event planning team
As above, you should back up your claims with examples, borrowing words from the job description itself so that the hiring manager can clearly see you’ve paid attention to the job listing and are a good fit for the job:
In the paragraph above, we’re mirroring the original job spec, but we’re making it more interesting, specific, and relevant. We’ve demonstrated that we can definitely handle the rigors of the job and backed up our assertions with a nice little humblebrag about how we also saved the company a ton of money.
9. What’s the Right Tone for a Cover Letter?
Pay close attention to the language used in the job listing, and reflect this with the language of your cover letter. Be formal when applying for a role with a formal job description. If the description is more fun and “kooky,” you can be a little more creative and casual (within limits).
Many job descriptions reflect a company’s brand voice and values. This means that mirroring the kind of language used in the job description in your cover letter doesn’t just make sense stylistically, but also offers you an additional opportunity to prove that you’re a good culture fit.
10. Do I Need a Cover Letter When Applying to Jobs on LinkedIn?
A beacon of light amidst the darkness
This might shock you, but cover letters used to be actual paper letters that served as the cover of a person’s resume. That they would physically mail to an employer. In an envelope.
Today, of course, most job applications are processed online, and a huge number of these are handled through LinkedIn.
As you might already know, LinkedIn offers an amazingly convenient way to send prospective employers your information, known as “Easy Apply.” This essentially sends a truncated version of your LinkedIn profile directly to a hiring manager’s InMail inbox (LinkedIn’s internal messaging and mail service), from which they can view your entire profile and application package.
Remember how I said that one of the sneakiest tricks in a job application is the part where it says cover letters are optional? Well, I’ll be honest with you – I don’t think I’ve ever included a cover letter for an Easy Apply role on LinkedIn.
That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t, however.
How Do LinkedIn Cover Letters Differ from Regular Cover Letters?
There are even fewer carved-in-stone rules about LinkedIn cover letters than there are for ordinary cover letters. There are, however, some unique considerations you should bear in mind when crafting a cover letter for LinkedIn applications.
For one, there’s the fact that your LinkedIn profile itself combines elements of both your resume and a well-written cover letter. Your LinkedIn profile’s summary essentially functions as its own cover letter, and your profile hopefully contains a great deal of detail about your professional accomplishments (as well as those vital connections that are becoming increasingly important in today’s job market). As such, LinkedIn cover letters may be a little shorter and more rudimentary than the type of cover letter I’ve outlined above.
However you choose to structure your LinkedIn cover letter, keep it brief; the hiring manager already has a lot of information to look over, so don’t waste time.
Many Thanks for Your Time and Consideration
There are almost as many ways to write a cover letter as there are jobs to apply for. However, as long as you manage to pique the hiring manager’s curiosity and maintain a professional and respectful tone, cover letters are just a chance to get your foot in the door.
Sadly, we must admit that part of the decision-making process of whether to accept a manuscript is based on a business model. Editors must select articles that will interest their readers. In other words, your paper, if published, must make them money. When it’s not quite clear how your research paper might generate interest based on its title and content alone (for example, if your paper is too technical for most editors to appreciate), your cover letter is the one opportunity you will get to convince the editors that your work is worth further review.
In addition to economic factors, many editors use the cover letter to screen whether authors can follow basic instructions. For example, if a journal’s guide for authors states that you must include disclosures, potential reviewers, and statements regarding ethical practices, failure to include these items might lead to the automatic rejection of your article, even if your research is the most progressive project on the planet! By failing to follow directions, you raise a red flag that you may be careless, and if you’re not attentive to the details of a cover letter, editors might wonder about the quality and thoroughness of your research. This is not the impression you want to give editors!
With that said, below is a list of the most common elements you must include and what information you should NOT include:
You should use formal language in your cover letter. Since most submissions are delivered electronically, the template below is in a modified e-mail format. However, if you send your cover letter on letterhead (PDF or hard copy by mail), move your contact information to the upper-left corner of the page unless you use pre-printed letterhead, in which case your contact information should be centered at the top of the letter.
[Submission Date: Month Day, Year]
Dear Dr./Mr./Ms. [Editor’s last name]:
TIP: Where the editor’s name is not known, use the relevant title employed by the journal, such as “Dear Managing Editor:” or “Dear Editor-in-Chief:”. Using a person’s name is best, however. Also, websites may be outdated, so call the journal to confirm to whom you should address your cover letter when in doubt.
TIP: Use “Ms.” and never “Mrs.” or “Miss” in formal business letters.
TIP: Never use “Dear Sirs:” or any similar expression. Many editors will find this insulting, especially given that many of them are female!
[Para.1: 2-3 sentences] I am writing to submit our manuscript entitled, [“Title”] for consideration as a [Journal Name][Article Type]. [One to two sentence “pitch” that summarizes the study design, where applicable, your research question, your major findings, and the conclusion.]
e.g., I am writing to submit our manuscript entitled, “X Marks the Spot” for consideration as an Awesome Science Journal research article. We examined the efficacy of using X factors as indicators for depression in Y subjects in Z regions through a 12-month prospective cohort study and can confirm that monitoring the levels of X is critical to identifying the onset of depression, regardless of geographical influences.
TIP: Useful phrases to discuss your findings and conclusion include:
[Para. 2: 2-5 sentences] Given that [context that prompted your research], we believe that the findings presented in our paper will appeal to the [Reader Profile] who subscribe to [Journal Name]. Our findings will allow your readers to [identify the aspects of the journal’s Aim and Scope that align with your paper].
TIP: Identify the journal’s typical audience and how those people can utilize your research to expand their understanding of a topic. For example, if many of your target journal’s readers are interested in the public policy implications of various research studies, you may wish to discuss how your conclusions can help your peers to develop stronger policies that more effectively address public concerns.
TIP: Include context about why this research question had to be addressed.
e.g., “Given the struggle policymakers have had to define proper criteria to diagnose the onset of depression in teenagers, we felt compelled to identify a cost-effective and universal methodology that local school administrators can use to screen students.”
TIP: If your paper was prompted by prior research, state this. For example, “After initially researching X, Y approached us to conduct a follow-up study that examined Z. While pursuing this project, we discovered [some new understanding that made you decide the information needed to be shared with your peers via publication.]”
[Para 3: Similar works] “This manuscript expands on the prior research conducted and published by [Authors] in [Journal Name]” or “This paper [examines a different aspect of]/ [takes a different approach to] the issues explored in the following papers also published by [Journal Name].”
TIP: You should mention similar studies recently published by your target journal, if any, but list no more than five. If you only want to mention one article, replace the preceding sentence with “This paper [examines a different aspect of]/ [takes a different approach to] the issues explored by [Authors] in [Article Title], also published by [Journal Name] on [DATE].”
[Para. 4: Additional statements often required] Each of the authors confirms that this manuscript has not been previously published and is not currently under consideration by any other journal. Additionally, all of the authors have approved the contents of this paper and have agreed to the [Journal Name]’s submission policies.
TIP: If you have previously publicly shared some form or part of your research elsewhere, state so. For example, you can say, “We have presented a subset of our findings [at Event]/ [as a Type of Publication Medium] in [Location] in [Year].”
e.g., We have since expanded the scope of our research to contemplate international feasibility and acquired additional data that has helped us to develop a new understanding of geographical influences.
[Para. 5: Potential Reviewers] Should you select our manuscript for peer review, we would like to suggest the following potential reviewers/referees because they would have the requisite background to evaluate our findings and interpretation objectively.
[Name, institution, email, expertise]
[Name, institution, email, expertise]
[Name, institution, email, expertise]
To the best of our knowledge, none of the above-suggested persons have any conflict of interest, financial or otherwise.
TIP: Include 3-5 reviewers since it is likely that the journal will use at least one of your suggestions.
TIP: Use whichever term (“reviewer” or “referee”) your target journal uses. Paying close attention to a journal’s terminology is a sign that you have properly researched the journal and have prepared!
[Para. 6: Frequently requested additional information] Each named author has substantially contributed to conducting the underlying research and drafting this manuscript. Additionally, to the best of our knowledge, the named authors have no conflict of interest, financial or otherwise.
Corresponding Author Institution Title Institution/Affiliation Name [Institution Address] [Your e-mail address] [Tel: (include relevant country/area code)] [Fax: (include relevant country/area code)]
Additional Contact [should the corresponding author not be available] Institution Title Institution/Affiliation Name [Institution Address] [Your e-mail address] [Tel: (include relevant country/area code)] [Fax: (include relevant country/area code)]
You’ve personalized your cover letter to the role and company, written killer opening and closing lines, and even figured out how to give it something special.
But you’re not done yet. Before you submit it, double check to make sure you’re not using any of these five words and phrases-they’ll sabotage even the greatest cover letters.
1. “I Think I’d Be a Great Fit…”
When I was in my high school, my English teacher told us never to use “I think” in an essay because if we were writing something, well, it was obvious that was what we thought.
The same holds true for cover letters. Not only are “I think,” “I feel,” “I believe,” and so on redundant, they also make you sound insecure.
Get rid of every “opinion phrase” in your cover letter. 99% of the time, you won’t even have to reword the sentence. For example, instead of saying, “I’m confident my communication skills would make me a strong Project Manager,” write “My communication skills would make me a strong Project Manager.”
It’s shorter, simpler, and more convincing.
Sure, you could say you’re “a good writer,” or “good at working with other people.” But there are so many adjective options out there, and they’re almost all more powerful than “good.”
Replace “good” with one of these descriptors:
Note: Make sure the alternative you choose accurately represents your skill or experience. If you’ve got two year’s worth of recruiting under your belt, you’d probably want to call yourself a “skilled,” “capable,” or “enthusiastic” recruiter rather than an “expert” or “experienced” one.
3. “This Job Would Help Me Because…”
Let’s be real: You, your friends, and your family members care why this job would help you. But the hiring manager does not. All he or she cares about is finding the best person for the role. So if you find yourself explaining how this position would help you develop your leadership skills, learn more about your desired industry, or get established as a thought leader-hit the delete key.
You do need to explain why you’re applying for this specific job at this specific company. Here’s the magic formula:
Your abilities + the company’s needs = desirable results
Let’s say you’re applying for a front-end engineering job. By following this formula, you’d get:
4. “As You Can See on My Resume…”
This is a common filler phrase. But if the hiring manager can see something on your resume, announcing its presence is unnecessary.
All you have to do is remove this phrase-no other changes needed!
So instead of saying, “As you can see on my resume, I’ve been working in marketing and PR for the last five years,” you’d write, “I’ve been working in marketing and PR for the last five years.”
Bonus: Your directness will project confidence.
5. “I’m the Best Candidate Because…”
Confidence is good, but arrogance is not. And even if you’re sure that you’d be an absolutely fantastic choice, you don’t know you’re the best. Imagine reading through six cover letters in a row from people who all claim to be “the best candidate.” That would get annoying pretty quickly, right?
To stay on the hiring manager’s good side, refrain from using “best.” Along similar lines, I’d also stay away from “ideal” and perfect.”
You want to choose descriptors that are in between “good” and best.”
Whipping a cover letter into shape isn’t easy or quick-but being rewarded by a job makes it all worth it!
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