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How to Write a Cover Letter That Hits Just the Right Tone

In the land of job applications, there are few tasks as dreadful as writing a cover letter. Hell, even re-entering your employment history into a company’s outdated hiring system isn’t so bad in comparison. In your cover letter, you’re supposed to charmingly zip through your relevant experience, your glowing strengths, and the unbelievable value you will deliver to the company… in one page or less.

As if that weren’t enough, the trendy advice is: “Stand out! Be snappy! Grab our attention! Be YOU!” And that, dear reader, is where our desire to be fresh, engaging, and funny can lead us into the murky waters of “TMI Land,” a.k.a, the trash pile.

It’s true that a generic “To Whom This May Concern” letter that regurgitates what’s on your resume is likely to bore the hiring manager. But there is a fine, fine line between writing a cover letter that’s lively and human and writing a cover letter that would have been better as a diary entry.

That’s why we’ve rounded up some important pointers to keep in mind the next time you’re trying to write a cover letter that’s both personable and professional.

Mirror the ethos of the company

You probably already know that it’s in your best interest to do some digging and find the name of your potential employer. Addressing a real person instead of an unknown entity will help you catch the hiring manager’s attention. (Who doesn’t like reading their own name?)

Striking the right tone for your cover letter boils down to where the company lands on the spectrum ranging from extremely cas, LOL to Sincerely, Signed [NAME]. The best way to figure out what to aim for is to note the language the company uses publicly to talk about itself and to engage with its followers. Look at their website, publications, and social media presence: Are they communicating mostly in gifs? Are they super formal? Do they always use an Oxford comma? If so, use it in your letter. By using keywords, phrases, and even grammatical conventions the company already uses to describe itself and what it wants in its employees, you’re showing you’ve done the research and you speak the same language.

The job listing might also provide an opportunity for you to tie in some more personality or details about yourself without it coming from left-field. For instance, if a company says they believe in uplifting creative and entrepreneurial people who are “curious about the world,” that gives you license to talk about your passion for newsletter design and what kind of ideas you’d bring to the table.

Don’t tell your life story

Including a few personal details in your cover letter is key to making you come alive as more than a piece of paper. But remember: this isn’t the time for you to relay your autobiography and how getting a job at this company is the next logical chapter for you. Too much background information  doesn’t help sell you and what you can do for the company.

The cover is a good place, however, for you to mention why there’s a gap in your resume or to explain why you’re switching careers, says Vicki Salemi, a career expert at Monster.com. Perhaps you took a few months off from work to deal with a death in the family or to volunteer with a nonprofit. If you don’t have any formal experience in the role you’re applying for, then the cover letter is a chance for you to tie your personal interests to the role, Salemi adds. For instance, mentioning that you were the treasurer of your local sorority chapter is applicable if you’re applying for a role in accounting and don’t have formal experience.

What you don’t want to do is share so much information that your potential employer feels like they’ve just read an application from their overly-chatty neighbor. Everyone wants friendly cowokers (duh!). But, those are relationships you work on slowly and develop over time.

Keep it easy on the eyes

Finally, whatever you do, make sure you’re not submitting a single block of text. That kind of freeform, stream-of-consciousness style is best left for your creative writing group. As a recruiter, Salemi says she used to spend mere seconds looking at resumes and cover letters (combined!). In order to catch the eye, aim for a couple of sentences in each paragraph

Got all that? Keep it to one page, be friendly but never unprofessional, and highlight your accomplishments. You’ll thank us later.


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