10 Tips for Writing a Cover Letter That Gets Your Application Noticed

Nancy Anderson
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In the age of the Internet, email and online applicant tracking systems, the concept of a cover letter may seem a bit outdated and antique. However, a cover letter can make your application stand out from other candidates who may be as qualified as you are. These 10 steps help ensure you write a vibrant cover letter that gets the attention of the recruiter and better ensures you move on to the next stages of the process.

Your Email Is a Cover Letter

Many automated resume and applicant programs allow you to submit a resume through email as an attachment. This email can come from your own email server or be generated by a form on a website. This introductory email with your resume attachment also doubles as your cover letter. Instead of just a brief "hello" in a generic email, write a full covering statement. Some applicant trackers even take such cover letters into account, so this document can improve your standing as ranked by the software if it's well written and on point.

Address the Hiring Manager Directly

Address your cover letter to the hiring manager or the person responsible for hiring this position. This shows your research into the company and personalizes your letter. Either call the company to determine the person's name or find the name on the Internet. "Dear Sir or Madam" simply doesn't cut it, and you may find your resume at the bottom of the pile.

Keep It Short

A cover letter should contain no more than three paragraphs, about a dozen sentences. The first paragraph introduces you and tells the recruiter why you're writing the letter. The second paragraph notes your background as it pertains to the job. The third paragraph thanks the person for reading. Try not to repeat information already found in the resume except to expand or clarify. Your cover letter should lead to someone looking over your resume for more about your work history, education and skill set.

Establish a Connection

Make a connection with the HR manager or recruiter in the first paragraph. This could entail a personal story about why you want to work for the company or explain how you ended up where you are today. The point is to emphasize why you want that particular job and why you're the perfect person to fill the position.

Bullet Points

In the second paragraph, include some bullet points that highlight the most important aspects of the job description as it relates to your skills. Make sure you match any of your important qualifications with the description. Bullet points make the letter seem less like a traditional letter and more like a creative document.

Match the Tone of the Company Culture

Find a blog post on the company's website. Match the tone and mimic the style of the blog post to show you know the company's culture. Link your cover letter to this blog post in some way so the HR manager sees that you did your homework. This gives you a chance to be creative rather than creating a standard letter. Explain why you chose this particular blog post and how it relates to the position at hand.

Offer a Quick Analysis

Offer two quick tips on how to improve the company. Remember that blog post you found earlier? Take an issue raised within that blog post and create a sentence or two on how to solve the problem. This is evidence that you can hit the ground running once you earn the position. By offering solutions, you enable your future supervisor to recognize you as a go-getter, a motivated worker and someone who has the ability to improve the company.

Use an Alternate Format

Instead of standard block paragraphs, experiment with formatting your letter in a "T" shape. Create two columns, one with the heading "My Qualifications" and another with the heading "Your Requirements." The column on the left complements the column on the right by matching part of the job description with your qualifications.


Make sure to proofread your cover letter several times. Print it on paper and review it away from a computer screen to give your eyes something different to look at when you read it. Look for alignment issues, misspellings, punctuation and grammatical errors. Break up long sentences to avoid monotony in your cover letter. Avoid run-on sentences that are confusing and hard to follow.

Give the printout of your cover letter to friends and have them read it. A different set of eyes can offer a second opinion. Read the letter aloud to yourself to determine if it sounds right.

Include an Email Signature

A good email signature includes your name, phone number, LinkedIn profile and email address. This lets the HR manager contact you very easily. Instead of hunting for your contact information on the resume, it's already there in your emailed cover letter.

Cover letters are not formally required for all job applications thanks to contemporary software and computerized application forms. However, a good cover letter gives HR managers and recruiters a perfect snapshot of your career as it relates to the position. Spend an hour or two crafting the perfect cover letter, and stand apart from the crowd when you apply for a new job.

Photo Courtesy of Murs Ali Oglu at Flickr.com



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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. So true @Jay that a carefully crafted cover letter can make all of the difference. @Kellen including a link to your LinkedIn account is a personal decision. Some recruiters say that it's vital while others will say that a hiring manager doesn't even look at it. What more can it add that your resume and cover letter haven't already said? It can show how you interact with others as well as your communication skills. Remember a picture paints a thousand words.

  • Jay Bowyer
    Jay Bowyer

    The most successful applications I've ever submitted have all had one thing in common: a cover letter created specifically for the hiring company. Personalization at every stage of the hiring procedure has been an almost foolproof technique for me, actually. There's nothing quite like being able to sit in an interview and discuss the hiring manager's company, offering new insights and strategy proposals. What could be better than to start that trend at the beginning of the process?

  • Kellen P.
    Kellen P.

    How important is it to include a LinkedIn profile? Do hiring managers even check these profiles? What can they offer that a well-crafted cover letter and resume cannot? I wonder if there are hiring managers out there that think less of a candidate because they don't have a LinkedIn profile. Do you think that happens?

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for your comment @Andrew. I love doing the two-column cover letter because it's a very visible way of quickly showing the hiring manager whether you are really qualified for the position. I used to put Your Requirements/My Qualifications and then list each one down and show in just a few words how I am qualified. It would be a great way to stand out. I caution, though, that it could come through looking like a garbled mess in some word programs. I would recommend that you send it as .pdf to keep the format. Hope that helps.

  • Andrew  S.
    Andrew S.

    That suggestion in the article about using a two-column cover letter is really eye-opening. I have never thought of formatting a cover letter like this before, but I'm certainly going to try this approach. For more impact, I would even word the column titles as: "Your Require" and "I Offer." If done correctly, it's a great way to stand out from the other candidates and show the hiring manager that you're the ideal fit for the position.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for your comments and your suggestions. @Lydia we learned the old way when it comes to cover letters. Yes, I, too, was taught to start out with "I am responding to the ad you had posted on blah, blah for the position of blah, blah". That has all gone by the wayside now. Yes, if you are sending your cover letter via email, it is good to include the position title as well as your name: Job Application: John Smith for Social Media Manager or Data Scientist, No. 123456 – John Smith Application for example. Then you can just jump right in to the cover letter with your short intro paragraph followed by the main objective and then your close. Always remember, it's about them, not about you. @William as much as we would like to think that cover letters are going away, they do not seem to be. If the job posting does not indicate otherwise, you should always send a cover letter with your resume. Until they become totally obsolete, we are stuck with them!!!

  • Sylvia L.
    Sylvia L.

    I definitely agree with the author's statement that it's important to address the cover letter to a specific person. It shouldn't take long to identify someone within the company, yet it does show that you've done some homework. When hiring, I expect a little initiative. Even if the letter is addressed to someone other than me, it helps to know that a candidate looked up someone relevant to the position. Likewise, if you aren't 100% positive about the person's gender, please do not put Ms or Mr. Even with my name-- Sylvia-- I am surprised how many people go on a limb and refer to me as "Mister." Very frustrating.

  • William Browning
    William Browning

    I disagree that a cover letter is vitally important these days. Writing a good cover letter is almost a lost art. I think the priority should be getting past applicant tracking software first and then showing effective communication skills through a phone interview. You have to get through the gatekeepers first, unless you try to get a job through a small business that doesn't even use applicant trackers.

  • Lydia K.
    Lydia K.

    @Nancy, I was taught to open a standard cover letter with the opening about which position I was applying to and where I found it, etc. The problem in today's job market is that recruiters and hiring managers are probably receiving hundreds of cover letters with the same opening paragraph. Here's what might be a better way to get noticed. Use the email subject line to note the position you're applying for. Introduce your pitch in the first paragraph and expand on it in the second paragraph. What do you think?

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comment. Please try never to use "to whom it may concern." As terrible as this sounds - Dear Hiring Manager would be better and even then we are told to try not to use that term. With a little bit of detective work, you can probably find out the name of the hiring manager. A phone call or even searching on the internet - through social media and company website as well as other sites like LinkedIn. You can find a wealth of information in these places. @Jacob if you are answering a job posting for an actual company, then you probably need to dig and try to find a real person's name. But if you are responding to a posting from a recruiter/agency it's not as important to find a name. You could simply address the cover letter to Dear Recruiter.


    It's easy for hiring managers to tell when people are using the same generic cover letter for all the companies that are applying to. Doing a good bit of research on the company is key. Mention their mission statement, values, recent accomplishments. This shows managers your genuine interest in the position and professional work ethic. I really liked your suggestion of addressing managers directly. If we don't know who the hiring manager is, should we use "to whom it may concern"?

  • Jacob T.
    Jacob T.

    Addressing the cover letter to a hiring manager seems like a great idea. Where do you find that information? Or, more likely, how should you handle it when you know the initial stages of the hiring process is being handled by a third party, such as a head hunter or recruiting firm?

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the comments. @Shannon I agree that the cover letter should be a more serious form of communication with the the company; not a blog. The cover letter is about them, not about you. It's how they will benefit by hiring you. @Katharine you could use the cover letter for additional information but make sure that the bulk of the cover letter is about them. It goes without saying that proofreading should be at the top of the list. Let someone else proofread it if you can. Or, if not, read it out loud. It's amazing how many mistakes you find when you read it out loud.

  • Katharine M.
    Katharine M.

    These are great tips. Cover letters can also be a great way to provide additional information that doesn't fit on your one-page resume. I normally discuss a few unique details of my past jobs that are relevant to the job in question. Sometimes, I also talk about particular courses I took in grad school or projects I worked on that are relevant.

  • Erin H.
    Erin H.

    I agree @Shannon. Proofreading is most important because that is the first impression that the hiring manager gets of an applicant. If the cover letter is filled with errors, I think that leaves a bad impression. I also like the suggestion of using a non-traditional font. I think that gives your cover letter something extra that stands out to managers.

  • Shannon Philpott
    Shannon Philpott

    I cannot stress enough how important proofreading is when submitting any type of application materials. This is really solid advice. The only thing I have issue with is mimicking the style of the company's blog. What if the blog is written in a very informal, too-casual format that is not appropriate for a cover letter? I think it is always important to keep your cover letter a bit more formal than a light-hearted blog.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Abbey thanks for your comment. Not really sure as I have never actually submitted a comment on a blog to offer solutions for a company for which I am not working. I guess some folks do it. I know I would love to hear from someone who has tried this and see what kind of reactions, if any, they got from the company.

  • Abbey Boyd
    Abbey Boyd

    I really like the idea of reading the company blog to find out more about the company culture. When I read the section on pointing out solutions to issues raised in the blog, I was a little taken aback. I worry that this might actually backfire on a person if they aren't careful. How exactly do you point out solutions to a company without sounding like you think the company has problems?

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