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Want to know the key to standing out from other job applicants? Your cover letter. Here is your opportunity to explain why you are the perfect candidate for the job. 

Your cover letter is often the first thing an employer reads and is a key test to being called for a job interview. Below are tips from local employers to help you stand out from the crowd.

1. Start with a plan

There’s no shame is using a cover letter template. Start by inputting your basic information in the template. Then personalize it further to make the cover letter your own!

2. Brainstorm

Before you put pen to paper, brainstorm for a few minutes. Have a solid answer to the following questions: Why should the company hire me? How are my unique experiences going to help this company? What is the culture of this company and how well do I fit that culture?

3. Keep the big picture in mind

Take some time to think about what a cover letter is used for and why you need to write it. Keep in mind that a cover letter should be personal, engaging, and specific to the position. This will attract the employer’s attention – and hopefully make them curious enough to schedule an interview.

4. Start with your contact info

You contact information should be consistent across your resume and cover letter. Simply place your full name, email address, home address, and phone number at the top of the page in a similar format as your resume for a practical and professional look.

5. Choose specific experiences

Feature skills and experiences that fit the job you are applying for. Choose striking words that will stand out. Hiring managers will be looking for these details!

6. Be memorable

This is your first opportunity to convince an employer to hire you. You want the employer thinking, “This person is perfect for the job.” Stick out from the crowd — be memorable!

7. Remember: your cover letter is not your resume

Resumes showcase your breadth of experiences. Cover letters, on the other hand, highlight select experiences and allow you to showcase your personality. You can speak to parts of your resume, but don’t regurgitate the bulk of it. This is a classic mistake that puts employers to sleep.

8. Address the employer

Applying for a job is personal. Speak directly to the hiring manager or employer. Address him or her by name. This shows you have done your research and care about the job.

9. Be personal

Take the time to be specific in your cover letters, addressing each job you apply for. Tell them why you believe you fit the company’s culture and mission. Avoid generic or blanket statements.

10. Keep it real

Identify a real connection you have with the employer. If you have experiences that illustrate your passion for the job, highlight them. The more authentic the connection, the better.

11. Don’t be a robot

Believe it or not, your employer is human and is looking to hire a human! Being overly formal makes you sound like a robot. Keep your tone enthusiastic, confident, and approachable.

12. Tell a story

Stories are the key to being memorable. It’s better to tell one awesome story in your cover letter than list every experience you’ve had that relates to the job (those are on your resume anyway).

13. Avoid too much name-dropping

Ask any friends or acquaintances to directly deliver your resume to HR or put in a good word for you, but don’t mention their name in a cover letter. This could make you appear overly eager if a different person ends up reviewing your resume. Save your personal connections for the interview, when you’ll have time to explain.

14. Mix it up

Employers see lots of cover letters. Make your cover letter stand out by mixing it up. Here are some ideas: 

  • Use bullet points to break up a paragraph 
  • Insert a quote from the employer
  • Cite something from your research (a news article about the employer or a line from a conversation you had with an employee, for example).

15. Don’t apologize

There is no need to apologize for skills you don’t have (or think you don’t have). Stay positive. Focus on your strengths and transferable skills. Remember: your objective is to convince the employer you’re a rock star!

16. Less is more

Keep the cover letter to under 4 paragraphs and less than a page. This will save you and employers lots of time and effort.

17. Communicate effectively

The cover letter is a test of your communication skills. Make it crystal clear what job you’re applying for and why you’re a great fit. Avoid grammatical and punctuation mistakes at all costs.

18. Real world over school

Employers operate in the “real world” and want to know that you can too. Emphasize professional or volunteer experiences over academic experiences. Don’t make the common mistake of over-emphasizing your educational background right out of school.

19. Start & finish strong

Start with a hook as opposed to a generic statement. End with a strong statement reminding the employer why you are the best candidate for the job.

20. Sell yourself to the company

Many people make the mistake of explaining how great the position would be for them. The real question to answer is how great you will be for the position. Tell prospective employers how you will benefit the company.

21. Look to the future

Write about what you can do in the future to stand out amongst other applicants. Choose some of the key requirements and priorities for the job and make it clear to the hiring manager why you can achieve these goals. 

Pro-tip: the more you can link your strengths to specific job requirement, the more you’ll stand out.

22. Highlight your skills

Don’t have much work experience? No problem! Strategically explain how the skills you have will complement the requirements of the job.

23. Include some numbers

A picture isn’t the only thing worth a thousand words. Statistics and numbers that speak to your success as an employee often illustrate far more than a simple explanation can. Employers will love results-driven examples in your cover letter.

24. Tell a story

Weave numbers throughout a brief story to highlight your accomplishments and make them memorable. Remember: don’t list all your accomplishments. Just highlight a few of your most relevant accomplishments in an entertaining fashion.

25. Explore different formats

Most of the time, a three to five paragraph format will do the trick. However, don’t be afraid to experiment if you are applying for a job that requires some innovation or creativity. 

Use bullet points, include a video, vary your fonts, or even tell a story that may be appropriate for a creative or startup job.

26. Be descriptive

Believe it or not, most people can describe themselves as a “team player” or a “hard worker.” Be more descriptive and explain your skills. It may take up more space but will create a much more compelling cover letter.

27. Fit the company’s culture

Take some time to research the company’s blog and social media pages in order to figure out the culture of the company. Demonstrate through your writing style and interests that you fit the company’s culture.

28. Focus on standing out

Even though we’re giving you a list of tips on writing cover letters, when it comes down to it, don’t take them as hard-and-fast rules. The best cover letters aren’t afraid to break the rules. 

Focus on standing out to the hiring manager by including the details that make you unique and uniquely qualified for the position.

29. Answer the job description

Take time to read the job description and take notes on important details before writing your cover letter. This will ensure that your cover letter is a direct response to the job description. Be brief but specific. Explain how you meet each requirement.

30. Complement your resume

Remember that the employer is also receiving your resume. Think of the cover letter as a complement to your resume. Your cover letter is not an exercise in telling the same story in paragraph format!

31. Explain employment gaps

Always, always, always explain recent gaps in your work history. Your cover letter gives you the perfect opportunity to do so. Explain if you were laid-off, traveling, taking a break from the workplace for family reasons, focusing on school, or any other legitimate reason.

32. Research the company

Browsing the company’s website, reading new articles, or speaking to current employees are great ways to research your prospective employer. By being informed, you’ll show that you’re prepared not only for the application, but also the job.

33. Highlight the company’s values

Strike a chord with the hiring manager by demonstrating that you not only understand the company’s values but match well with that value system. Talk about the initiatives the company is doing that you want to be involved in because those initiatives reflect your values. Use examples wherever possible.

34. Expand upon your resume

Your cover letter should not repeat your resume, but it should include details that you weren’t able to fit into your resume. Take advantage of the ability to use full sentences over bullet points and tell your story.

35. Customize it

Create a custom cover letter for each position you apply for, even though it takes more time. Stock cover letters stick out like a sore thumb and show a major lack of enthusiasm for each specific company. The goal is to convince each company that you want their position the most, so be specific!

36. Don’t give up

Sometimes you may run into trouble uploading your resume. If that’s the case, apply online according to the employer’s instructions, but bring a printed version of your cover letter to the interview, just in case.

37. Cut the comedy

You may think you’re the comedy king or queen, but it’s too risky to assume that someone else will. Even worse, don’t take the chance that a prospective employer misinterprets your humor for unprofessionalism. 

Save your jokes for the interviews, where you’ll have a chance to recover from a joke that falls flat.

38. Have someone proofread it

A fresh pair of eyes is always a good idea in the revision process. Ask your friend to take a look and give you some feedback. Does this make me look like the perfect candidate for the job? Were you confused about anything? How can I make this even better? 

Take their feedback seriously and adjust your cover letter accordingly.

39. PDF beats Word

Converting your document into a PDF file is the safest way to send a cover letter digitally. This will avoid most conversion and formatting issues that could make an employer skip your application.

40. Don’t skip it

Have you ever been tempted to just skip the cover letter altogether? If you have, don’t listen to yourself. This will communicate laziness and a lack of initiative. 

Always include a cover letter, unless the employer specifically asks you not to.

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