Cover Letter Success Tips

Why are cover letters important?

Your resume details your education and experiences and should be customized to each position, but your cover letter is your opportunity to make an even stronger connection between your experiences and a specific position. You are demonstrating that you are a great fit for the role, that you can communicate clearly, and that you have researched the organization. You are differentiating yourself from other applicants who may have similar qualifications.

HR managers and hiring managers see hundreds of cover letters, and they know what makes the successful ones stand out. These tips apply to cover letters for both internships and full-time jobs, although cover letter for internships will typically be briefer since you don’t yet have much experience, and the experience you do have may be primarily classroom-based. Take advice from the experts:

Tell Me What Prompted You to Apply for the Job

Where did you see the ad? What was it about this ad that caught your eye and made you act? One sentence is plenty. If you saw the ad on the company's website, kudos–you weren't out trolling the boards; you were actually looking into us. Here's a secret: if you see an ad on another site, go to the company's website and look at their job postings. You've now seen it on the company's website! Even better: if you have a personal connection who told you about the position, mention it right up front.

Show Me Why You Believe You Are Qualified

It isn't necessary to write a long and detailed summary of your experience here, one or two sentences that distill the most relevant experience will do. You can quantify years of experience in the industry and with a couple technologies listed in the ad, reference a noteworthy accomplishment, or briefly describe how a current or past role prepared you. A link to past work might help in certain cases.

Express Interest

If you've covered what prompted your application and your qualifications nicely, a simple "I'm very interested in learning more about this position…" can suffice. If you feel you may need just a bit more to put you over the top, demonstrating that you did a minute of research on the company can help. Is there a product we offer that you'd like to know more about? Did the way we described our culture have particular appeal to you?

Mention the Company's Name, Twice

Doing this lets me know you cared enough not to send a pure form letter. Applications that use generic phrases like "your company” scream "I'm just looking for any job" and not "I'd like to be an employee of COMPANY". The first mention can be in the opening sentence when you list the job itself ("…apply for Senior Python Developer at COMPANY"), and specify again in your closing.

Don't Do Anything Stupid or Desperate

Referencing the wrong company name due to cut/paste miscues is a common one, as is not changing the date, and although we are willing to forgive a small error it does give the appearance that the candidate has applied to several positions simultaneously (which is fine, but decreases our odds of hiring). Creating a tone that you are desperate to work is not helpful, regardless of how true it is. Make the recipient want to hire you based on your skills and not on sympathy. Don't ask me to hire you, just explain why I should want to.

If You Are Asked for a Salary Requirement

If you are uneasy about providing salary requirements, at least acknowledge the request tactfully (as opposed to completely ignoring it). Try something like "It's difficult to provide an accurate salary requirement before knowing any other elements of employee compensation packages, as well as the job responsibilities and company's expectations for this role. As a starting point I would be looking at the range for recent graduates of my program, which is $XX,000 to $XX,000."

If You Are Applying for a Job in a Different City

Recruiters receive many resumes from out-of-town applicants. When we see a non-local address without any explanation, it is often safe to assume that you are applying for many jobs all across the country. There is nothing wrong with that, but the odds that we will hire you become much lower if you are looking everywhere (more choices lower the chance you'll choose us). Unless your resume is spectacular, a non-local applicant may not be given the same level of consideration.

When targeting a move to a specific city, mention this in the body of your cover letter. Companies will pay close attention to candidates that have concrete plans to move to their city, and agency recruiters are much more likely to work with you if you are only seeking jobs in one or two locations. If you can provide a future local address on a resume, that may help.

If You Are Somewhat Underqualified for the Job

There will be times when a job looks very appealing but your experience clearly falls a bit short. In this situation, the opportunity to write a few sentences in support of your resume is your best shot at consideration. Recruiters will often give at least one chance to underdog candidates who attempt to make up for a lack of years with some enthusiasm or an interesting story. It is much harder to say no to someone who demonstrates that they are eager to work for you.

E-mailing your application

If you are instructed to e-mail your resume and cover letter, your email is the cover letter, and your resume is an attachment. This makes it as easy as possible for the hiring manager to quickly see how interested you are.

Do I have to send a cover letter?

Do you want to stand out from other applicants? Then you must send a cover letter that highlights your strengths as an applicant. Even if no cover letter is requested, it never hurts to include one as long as it is well written and helps to elevate you as a candidate.

Stumped about what to include?

One thing that ANY applicant can write about is what you know about the organization. Showing that you did some research beyond reading the home page of their website is a great idea.

Adapted from