recruiters

how to write a cover letter

How to write a cover letter – with 13 examples you can use

Not too sure how to write a cover letter? You’re definitely not alone. On average, half of job applicants don’t send cover letters with their resumes, even when the job posting asks for one.

Some recruiters overlook the absence of a cover letter when the resume is phenomenal on its own, but many say it’s a sign applicants either can’t follow simple instruction, or can’t be bothered to put in the effort. Either way, that’s not the first impression you want to make on a recruiter.

But before you sit down to bang out a cookie-cutter letter starting with an introduction to yourself, an expression of your interest and excitement for the position, or your opinion you’d be a valuable asset to the company, take a second to consider what recruiters and hiring managers actually look for in cover letters.

First and foremost, they look for the qualifications and accomplishments that make the applicant a good candidate for the position. Second, they look for effective communication and writing skills, and last – dead last – they look for a glimpse into the applicant’s personality.

Above all, recruiters, hiring managers, and employers look for a reason to keep reading.

Starting your cover letter with an introduction, a thank you, or an expression of enthusiasm may seem the polite thing to do, but writing an effective cover letter isn’t an exercise in etiquette.

Recruiters are some of the busiest people on the planet. They read hundreds of resumes and cover letters every week looking for qualified candidates who can quickly and concisely describe how they meet the employer’s requirements. While recruiters appreciate you want to show your gratitude and enthusiasm, they’d prefer you skip the niceties and launch out of the gate strong with meaningful information they can use.

Use an employee referral to open strong

An employee referral might drop in your lap, but more likely, it’ll take a bit of legwork to get one. Either way, when you can get one, use it. A referral is the strongest way to open your cover letter.

Typically, a referral is someone who contacts you to say, “The company I’m at is looking for a _______; I think you’d be great for it, you should apply.” It may be a former coworker, a friend, or someone you’ve established a connection with through your networking efforts.

To the employer, however, it’s someone they know and trust who knows you and your talent and thinks you’d be great for the role. To the recruiter, it’s a green flag to fast-track you for an interview. Here’s an example of a strong opening using an employee referral: 

When my former colleague, John Smith, urged me to apply for the IT Engineer position recently opened up at AB Company, I wasted no time preparing my resume for this fitting opportunity. John and I worked together at XY company for three years, and have kept in close contact since he jumped on board AB in 2015. Given my significant contributions while working at XY, John thought AB Company would benefit from my talent.

Another way to get a referral is to contact an employee at the company you want to apply to. If they’re receptive, persuade them to talk with you about the company, and ideally, the role. LinkedIn is a good place to try to get a referral, but it can take persistence. Some people are receptive and accommodating when contacted out-of-the-blue by a stranger – others not so much. Your persistence can pay-off though – big time.

It’s not just about getting a name to bolster your cover letter. It’s about showing genuine interest in the company you’re applying to work at, and on it’s own, that’s a big thing. Going farther than merely skimming the company’s About Us page will earn you brownie points with the employer. Here’s another example:

On the recommendation of ComputerCo’s Senior Analyst, John Smith, I’m pleased to bid for the IT Engineer role you’ll fill next month. My qualifications and experience align well with your requirements, and ComputerCo’s supportive clan culture, as John vividly described it to me, aligns well with my tribesman nature, so it seems like a good match.

Recruiters and employers alike appreciate applicants who connect authentically with the company. If you really want to work there, get a referral and use it to make a unique and compelling connection. It will be well worth the effort. Here’s a quick how-to.

Use facts to give clear information

Barring a referral, simply open your cover letter with relevant and meaningful information drawn from actual facts.

After reviewing your requirements for an IT Engineer, I promptly composed my resume to highlight the relevant skills I’ve developed over three continuous years as an IT Technician. It describes how my education, experience, and qualifications align with your requirements, and I’m pleased to be considered for this fantastic career opportunity.

It’s a strong opening that gives the reader useful information. Perhaps the most compelling (believe it or not) is that you actually read the job posting. This is a big deal to recruiters. As much as 98% of the resumes and cover letters recruiters receive are from applicants nowhere near qualified for the positions they’re applying for.

Opening your cover letter stating worthwhile facts, i.e.: you fully read the job posting, are qualified to apply for the position, and wrote a responsive resume, will give the recruiter something they don’t often get – a reason to keep reading.

From opening to close, avoid vagueness. For example: “I have worked on several large projects, completing them to the client’s satisfaction and in a timely manner”. This is vague narrative containing no real description and even less information. Recruiters need specificity to get a clear picture of what you did, how you did it, and what the outcomes were.

Be specific and descriptive. For example:

“I simultaneously worked on four complex model-implementation projects that exceeded all of the clients’ expectations. Adhering to my own strict and comprehensive check-list system, I installed each project bug-free, under budget by an aggregate 8%, and shaved five days off projected turnarounds.

Much better. This is an actual accomplishment – specific and descriptive – giving the recruiter useful information.

Use bits of the job posting

The accomplishments you choose to highlight in your cover letter must be relatable to the employer. There’s no point in describing some amazing feat you pulled off in a previous position, no matter how remarkable, if it’s not relevant to the employer you’re trying to impress.

Put your writing efforts into developing strong descriptions of accomplishments you know the employer cares about. Choose one or two items from the job posting and spin your achievements to match.

how to write a cover letter

A couple of concise, descriptive sentences relating directly to what the employer is looking for will do a nice job of addressing those particular required qualifications.

My recent role as an IT technician challenged me to conceptualize the hierarchy needed to dovetail solutions across multiple small and medium-sized projects. As the remote technical consultant for a complex 2018 Active Directory networking project, I coordinated and implemented 48 domain controller upgrades for market-leading clients in Africa and Australia, exceeding expectations by shaving four days off projected turnarounds, respectively.

Many job postings open with a bit of information about the company and what they’re looking for in candidates. Pick up on some of the verbiage and use it in your cover letter.

how to write a cover letter

In 2015, XY Company gave me my first opportunity to join an entrepreneurial IT team driven to over-achieve. It was an invaluable experience that demanded applying self-initiative to create imaginative solutions to complex issues. Through impeccable attention to detail, I hit the mark and became an essential contributor to solution-creation for some of the company’s biggest clients.”

It never hurts to talk graciously about former employers. Rather than merely describe something you accomplished, try giving some of the credit to your former employer.

“XY Company was a breeding ground of opportunities, many of which I availed of to develop solution-oriented skills most don’t acquire so early in their careers.”

“Switching gears on a dime is a skill I attribute to XY Company’s fast-paced environment where priorities frequently shifted instantaneously. Adapting quickly and efficiently, I earned numerous opportunities to work on assorted ad-hoc projects typically reserved for senior technicians, ultimately earning a swift promotion to lead technician for twelve clients.

Use I, me, and my – it’s okay

It’s practically impossible to write a cover letter without using “I, me, or my”. The trick is to use pronouns anecdotally. Make your “I’s, me’s, and my’s” serve a meaningful purpose and not merely to express what you are, how you feel, or what you think. Below are some of the most over-used and meaningless statements recruiters see over and over in cover letters – avoid them at all costs.

  • I am excited to submit my resume for….
  • I am confident I would be a valuable asset…
  • I offer a proven ability to…
  • This would be a chance for me to …
  • I am proficient with…
  • My skills are well developed…
  • I am adept at…
  • I bring to the table…

Using pronouns to describe your accomplishments is perfectly acceptable when they make up part of a meaningful narrative. With some deliberate thought and the help of a thesaurus, you’ll come up with ways to both reduce the frequency of pronouns in your cover letter and make the ones you do use necessary. Here’s a before and after to illustrate:

Before: “I was the go-to person for solution implementation and I led a team in designing and implementing interim solutions. I oversaw the processing of requests from customers for a large number of records in several database tables …….”

After: “Having earned a reputation as the unofficial go-to for solution implementation, I gained the opportunity to lead a six-person team designing and deploying interim strategies to process customer requests for 900 records in 10 database tables….”

It’s a subtle change that reduces the number of “I”s from three to one.

Use originality and authenticity

Recruiters and employers know a cookie-cutter cover letter when they see one. A series of cliches copied and pasted from a template or crappy cover letter example (littering the Internet in the millions) are as obvious as a fart in an elevator.

Cliches are the bane of recruiters. Avoid them by using your own original material. The examples provided in this article are intended to give you some ideas and inspire you to write your own descriptive material. If you can adapt one or two to your own professional accomplishments, go for it.

Don’t use your cover letter to rehash your resume. It’s lazy. Recruiters often read resumes before they read cover letters. If they like the resume, they’ll turn to the cover letter expecting (or hoping) to discover how the applicant connects authentically with the company.

Put together a responsive resume then write a complementary cover letter with fresh information. Use the strategy we reviewed above, selecting one or two items from the job posting. Write about your directly-related achievements in a way that will resonate with the employer.

Use the right tone

Adapt your “tone” to mirror that of the job posting. If it’s ultra-technical or stick-up-the-butt-professional, as painful as it may be, follow suit. The same goes for off-the-wall or unconventional ads. I once read a job ad that said, literally, “Our work environment is chaotic and we don’t always know what were doing.” Feel the vibe and emulate it, but always be professional.

“When I joined YZ Company as an administrative assistant, it was young, evolving, and chaotic. My organization skills kicked into overdrive and, in ten days, I designed and implemented a company-wide standardized system to identify priorities and execute strategies, transforming pandemonium into harmony. The immediate result was marked and measurable productivity that put two significant projects ahead of schedule, pleasing one client so much he took the entire office out to lunch.”

Use a call to action to close strong

Thanking the reader is a given, but don’t leave it there. Ask for the interview.

“Thank you for your time today. I invite you to contact me at 901.023.4567 to schedule our meeting, and look forward to the occasion.”

It’s neither needy nor cliche, as in, “Please call me to arrange an interview.”

Rather, it’s polite, it asks for the interview, and it expresses expectation on your part. I wont go into the psychology behind CTAs (calls to action), but suffice to say most people, recruiters included, respond to CTAs when they’ve already formed a favourable impression. 

Polish it up

Don’t let all of your hard work get tossed because you overlooked a few important details. Take the extra steps to polish your cover letter to a lustrous shine.

  • Check your word count – keep it to 300 or slightly under.
  • Keep your paragraphs short with ample space between each.
  • Use ATS-friendly font, no more than 11 point.
  • Spellcheck, punctuation check, and proofread.

Use this full example

The information you present in your cover letter has to grab the recruiter’s attention.
 
Use this example to get inspired to write your own original cover letter with a couple of noteworthy accomplishments the employer will care about.

how to write a cover letter

 

this is how your resume should look

This Is How Your Resume Should Look

If your resume looks as boring as this guy, you’re doing it right.

All the usual cliches apply: “Don’t judge a book by its cover” — “Looks can be deceiving” — “Trust not too much to appearances”. Your resume is not supposed to be eye candy. It is supposed to be an informational document. When all is said and done, this is how your resume should look…

Have you seen these new “modern” resumes? If you’ve been looking online for resume help, you probably have. This is generally what they look like:

The modern resume is certainly more interesting to look at than the boring old traditional resume, but guess what?

Recruiters, hiring managers, and ATSs hate them

Here’s what you need to know about these so-called modern resumes — they’re crap. Employers and recruiters hate this resume format and, far, far more importantly, ATSs don’t understand it.

ATSs are easily confused. Blocks, shapes, symbols, and columns make it hard for ATSs to parse the information they’re looking for.

The ATS’s job is to convert resume documents to text-only files so it can pick out keywords. Having to scan through too many design elements confuses the ATS and it won’t put in the effort to figure out what’s going on. It will simply pass right on by and all of your pretty design touches will never be seen by a human, along with none of the rest of your resume.

Modern resumes have about a 1% chance of making it past an ATS and landing in front of human eyeballs. Even then, a modern resume will get only a quick skim (less than the usual 6 seconds) before getting rejected. Why?

Because it takes only a glance for any recruiter or hiring manager to recognize the absence of anything of value in these “creative” resume documents.

Recruiters top 3 complaints about modern resumes

  1. Huge lack of information. Modern resumes don’t contain enough meaningful and relevant information. At a glance, a trained eye notices immediately when there is too little information.
  2. Waste of space. Whether horizontal or vertical, colored areas are a big waste of prime real estate. This will become obvious when you compare these modern resume formats to the sensible chronological resume format (coming up).
  3. Useless and distracting graphics and columns. Colored blocks, symbols, icons, and sliders provide ZERO information and disrupt the reader’s normal way of reading. The two-column layout goes against nature and causes confusion for both the human reader and the ATS.

Here’s what you should never include in your resume:

  • Tables, Columns, and Text boxes
  • Logos, Images, Graphics, and Symbols

The resume format recruiters, hiring managers, and ATSs love

The Chronological Resume Format. It’s the one most employers and recruiters want to see, and it’s the one that makes the ATS’s job more efficient.

Since there is an estimated 86% chance your resume will be scanned by an ATS, you’ll want to be sure to do everything humanly possible to make the ATS’s job more efficient. Here is a beautiful example of a Chronological Resume. This how your resume should look.

Notice this is a two-page resume. There’s a lot of back and forth out there about two pages versus one page, but here’s the truth of it. Recruiters and hiring managers are perfectly happy with two-page resumes as long as the information contained in the pages is relevant, meaningful, and useful to them.

Recruiters have no time for distractions or guesswork

The first crucially-important thing a recruiter or hiring manager will notice about the chronological resume is the clean and simple layout with efficient use of space. They like clean and simple — it allows the eyes to flow naturally from left to right across the page absorbing the information given. There are no distractions or confusion about where to look next — nothing to avert the eye from the important information, and information is all the recruiter is looking for.

The next thing they’ll love is that the resume goes immediately into work history. This is the beauty of the chronological format and recruiters love it.

They are not interested in lists of bullet points or clumps of colored blocks containing the applicants claims of Key Skills or Core Competencies. Nor are they interested in your Resume Objective.

Never put an objective statement on your resume! No one cares about your objective. Employers and recruiters care only about their own objective, which is to find a qualified employee. The way they do that is to disseminate the meaningful and relevant information contained in the resumes they read.

Other resume formats recruiters don’t like

You’ve probably heard of the Functional and the Hybrid resume formats.

In each of these formats, skills and accomplishments are placed before work history. Recruiters and hiring managers hate the Functional format and barely tolerate the Hybrid format.

The second they see Key Skills, Accomplishments, and Core Competencies highlighted at the top of the resume, they know the work experience will be lacking.

The purpose of the Functional and Hybrid resume formats is to de-emphasize the fact an applicant’s work history is less than impressive. Recruiters and hiring managers know that, and aren’t inclined to waste time reading Functional and Hybrid resumes.

However, when a job posting clearly lists the qualifications applicants must have to apply for the job, I often do a little spin of the Hybrid resume format . If you follow my lead, this is how your resume should look:

Qualifications aren’t like skills and competencies, which are little more than the applicant’s own personal claims. Qualifications are verifiable.

Qualifications are earned through education, training, certification, and in some cases, experience. Qualifications are important to the employer, so rather than go directly into work experience, I like to quickly and briefly list an applicant’s relevant qualifications.

This is meaningful information that shows the employer — bang! — this applicant is qualified for the job. They appreciate that.

Circles and bars don’t describe skills

Recruiters and hiring managers do not buy into this crap. In the modern resume, these kinds of sliders and symbols are meaningless.

By whose standard is the applicant “grading” their skills? If an applicant is truly excellent at something, they should be able to describe how they came to be excellent in that skill by describing work experiences wherein they used and cultivated that skill. That’s what recruiters and employers want to see — proof! Not colored bars, stars, symbols, and ridiculous, unsupported claims of excellence.

Useless waste of prime real estate

One of the worst things about modern resumes is that they waste space. Have you heard the term, Above the Fold?

It refers to information that is provided in the top one-third of the resume. It originated in the newspaper industry and means: give readers the scintillating information above the fold of the newspaper. The idea is to catch their attention and entice them to purchase the newspaper and “read all about it”.

It’s the same idea with resumes. Even though resumes are read largely online, the reader has to be enticed to scroll. Top-load your important information, which by the way, is not your name, contact info, and career objective. Just look at this massive waste of prime real estate above the fold.

Although your name and contact info does belong at the very top of your resume, it does not have to be 24 point font nor listed line-by-line. I see a lot of this (below), which is an incredible waste of space. Don’t do this:

The top one-third of your resume should look something like this

To entice the reader to scroll, this is how your resume should look. Your name and contact info goes on one line. That’s it. Name, city, email, LinkedIn, phone. There’s no need to give your street address — you can throw in your postal code if you think it matters to the employer to know what part of the city you live in.

Always put your phone number last on the line. Recruiters tell me all the time how they wish all job applicants would do this.

Recruiters are insanely busy people. They don’t have time to hunt through your contact info looking for your phone number. I even bold the phone number so it stands out. Your phone number is the most important information on your contact line.

Whether or not you have (or should have) a LinkedIn profile depends on your occupation and sometimes on your location. Some employers in some industries in some (smaller) towns don’t care about LinkedIn profiles. But rest assured, recruiters do, no matter the town or industry.

Recruiters will look you up on LinkedIn and here’s an important tip: it’s better not to have a LinkedIn profile at all than to have an outdated profile that doesn’t match the resumes you’re sending out.

1995 called — it wants its Objective Statement back

Time marches on. Things change. An Objective Statement has no place on today’s resume. Recruiters and hiring managers are looking for information about applicants’ suitability for the job they are applying for. No one gives a fiddler’s fart about what you want to do. They care about what you’ve done and what you can do for them. Give them a brief, fact-based Professional Profile that is relevant to the job posting.

The Professional Profile is a great place to use a couple of keywords from the job posting. ATSs don’t care how keywords are used in a resume, but humans do. Pop a few in your cover letter, a couple in your Profile, and the rest in your work descriptions.

Accomplishments beat “numbers” every time

Almost every blog out there that gives resume-writing advice says you must use numbers. It’s B.S.

If you’ve got meaningful numbers, by all means use them. If you don’t have numbers, don’t sweat it. There is far too much emphasis placed on this number thing.

Numbers matter in sales and certain other occupations where an applicant’s success is typically quantified by mere numbers. But not everyone has numbers and not every employer cares about numbers.

Big-time resume-writing expert, Kamara Toffolosays:

“As a resume writer, I’m always looking for ways to quantify the results my clients have created in their careers. But slapping a number on an accomplishment just to quantify it doesn’t suddenly make it more relevant and powerful. The use of a number needs to make sense, and often, it doesn’t. There are many situations where you can’t quantify an accomplishment, and some cases where you shouldn’t even try.“

Your resume is not an art project

Getting back to the overall appearance of the modern resume versus the traditional (sensible) chronological resume, what do you think?

The modern resume may be more interesting to look at, but what does it matter? This resume format goes against everything we know about appeasing the ATS.

Therefore, human eyeballs are unlikely to ever see it. Even when resumes are not subjected to an ATS but instead go to an email address, no one is impressed with these “creative-type” resumes.

Recruiters and hiring managers simply don’t like the modern resume, particularly with its Skills “grading” metric that is completely meaningless. Dots and bars indicating an applicant’s personal claim of excellence or inter-mediocrity is utterly useless and unimpressive. It tells the hiring manager nothing.

Plain white paper containing lots of useful, meaningful, and relevant information is the way to go. Plain and simple — this is how your resume should look. No bells ‘n whistles. Your resume is not an art project.

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terri at resumepro

Terri is an expert resume-writer and a pretty good job coach. During her 30 years in the conventional work force, Terri was fired from 11 jobs, got laid off from 2 jobs, quit 3 jobs, sued 1 employer (successfully), made another cry, and wrote over 100 resumes for herself alone! Since embracing the good old “take this job and shove it” attitude, Terri decided to put all of her shitty “workin’ for the man” experiences and life-lessons to good use, and thus was born www.goresumepro.ca/blog. Enjoy!