Writing a cover letter in which you’re able to flout your awesome skill set, showcase your winning personality, and somehow not sound like a robot cheeseball narcissist can be a real challenge. But your cover letter is one of first tools that will take you from where you are presently (a.k.a. the Island of Unemployment/Current Career Discontent) to the greener pastures of your dream job. Make sure the boat that’s going to carry you that distance is sleek, quick and leak-proof by enacting the following:
Obvious, right? You would think so. But cover letters that blunder badly right out of the gate are more common than you might think. Make sure the most basic elements of your letter—addressee, proper formatting, design, job title as it appears in the listing—is pristine. It’s essential to convey an attention to detail and seriousness about the prospective job. Super basic errors suggest you didn’t take the time to review your work before sending it off and that you couldn’t be bothered to research simple information correctly. Not a great way to begin the conversation. Print it out and read it, even if you’re submitting it electronically. Make changes, print it out again, and then read it again. Ask a friend or family member to take a look at it. Then make changes, print it out again and read it again (yes, again!) before you send it off. Your cover letter needs to be immaculate.
Are you having flashbacks to your high-school English class? Good. This is one of the oldest principles of compelling writing, and a cover letter is no exception. The person reading your cover letter has probably seen some variation of the following sentence approximately one million times: “I’m an incredibly hard worker, extremely organized, and I think I’d be a great fit for this company!” Instead of resorting to something so generic and predictable that it holds almost no meaning, describe an occasion from a previous job or position that clearly illustrates the attributes you want to highlight. On the flip side of that coin: be sure to keep it efficient and as brief as possible!
Most job listings hand you a literal map via the job description and required skills. Don’t make this process any harder than it needs to be! Absorb the language used in the job listing and put it back out there when you’re writing your letter. A demonstrated understanding of what, specifically, the job entails and why your skill set and background are a good match goes a long way.
So you’ve adhered to all of the above; now, you’ve got to separate yourself from the bunch. Demonstrate that this is a company with which you are well versed. Read interviews given by the CEO. Familiarize yourself with when, where and why the company was founded. Mention recent developments or bits of news that you find to be particularly exciting—prestigious awards, an impressive recent earnings report, advances in technology, major press—to show them you are passionate about the trajectory of the company. In other words, flattery goes a long way (but don’t overdo it; no one likes a kiss-ass).
This article has been updated since it was originally published on June 8, 2016.