How to Do a Cover Letter the Right Way

Nancy Anderson
Posted by

A great cover letter captures the attention of the employer and convinces him to take a closer look at your resume — all in a single page. Although the letter seems simple, it can be notoriously difficult to write. Allowing ample time for drafting and review can help you create a concise and compelling letter that enhances your job application.

Keep It Short

Employers may read hundreds of applications for a single position, so they don't have time to wade through novel-length letters. Respect the reviewer's time by keeping your cover letter short and to the point. Limit the document to three paragraphs whenever possible, and don't waste space with flowery or overly formal language. Use concise sentences that communicate your ideas clearly and leave no room for uncertainty.

Be Specific

Choose one or two attention-grabbing professional accomplishments to include in your cover letter. Each example should relate to the open position and show the employer what you would bring to the company. Use specific language, and include numbers to quantify your achievements. Instead of saying that you are a results-oriented leader, for example, explain how you increased your department's sales by 30 percent in six weeks.

Avoid Boilerplate

Few things make an employer lose interest faster than a cover letter that sounds exactly like the one before. As you write, avoid boilerplate language, jargon and buzzwords — as a rule of thumb, stay away from any phrases or sentences you find in online samples or in career center resources. Instead, describe your skills and experience in your unique voice. In doing so, you'll inject personality into the text and help it stand out from other applications.

Adopt the Appropriate Tone

Your resume and job application demonstrate that you have the skills to succeed; a powerful cover letter reinforces those claims and convinces the employer that you'd fit in at the office. Strengthen your case by using the appropriate tone. If you're applying to a casual, jeans-and-flip-flops office, a crisp and formal letter may convey the wrong message. Likewise, a conversational letter might not inspire confidence in an employer at a high-stakes investment firm. Your writing style should match the company's character and personality, and reassure readers that you will fit into the corporate culture.

Edit Mercilessly

Before you send a letter to an employer, ask for editing help. Pass the letter on to trusted colleagues or contacts, and ask for feedback on the content. Then, choose one or two people with impeccable professional writing skills to help you polish the text. Ask your reviewers to be merciless in their editing; this reassurance gives editors permission to provide honest advice, even if it hurts.

Writing a strong cover letter takes a considerable amount of time and effort. By researching the company, respecting the employer's time and framing your narrative correctly, you can craft a letter that piques the reader's interest.

Photo courtesy of jannoon028 at



Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Paula K thanks for your comment. So very true. I do that with all of my writing - keep editing and editing. But at some point you have to just say - enough and start submitting your cover letter. Always make sure that you are addressing the company's needs, not your own when writing your cover letter. Best of luck.

  • Paula K.
    Paula K.

    How true! People with careers in journalism work everyday to reach that perfect narrative. I find it is hard to stop editing yourself and let it run. Keep to a deadline - it inspires the ability toake that hard choice between the best phrase and style.

Jobs to Watch