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How to write a cover letter that gets noticed

CareerBuilder | May 27, 2022

How to make a cover letter

We've got you covered with tips on how to write a cover letter that helps you stand out and encourages hiring managers to keep reading.

We know no one loves writing cover letters. But it's a means to an end: If you want to get ahead in your job search, submit a cover letter. While times do change, as recently as 2016, 40% of hiring managers were more likely to pay attention to job applications that include cover letters.

Although a cover letter alone isn't enough to impress the hiring manager, we've got you covered with information on what can help you stand out. Use these expert-approved tips to help you craft an eye-catching cover letter. And don't forget to upload a resume on CareerBuilder so you're ready to apply (and submit your cover letter) when the perfect job pops up.

Start with a solution

According to Deborah Ostreicher, CEO of Distinguished Communications, "99.9% of cover letters start with, 'Dear X, I'm writing about the ABC position." Creating a unique opening line can help you stand out among applicants.

Use the beginning of your letter to emphasize what you bring to the table. For example, if you're an engineer, emphasize your skills and abilities that can benefit the company, such as team leadership or experience in multiple industries. You can use this section to grab the hiring manager's attention and show your value.

Consider your greeting

The salutation you choose can affect whether the person continues reading. If the hiring manager's name is Terry, and you address them as “sir” or “madam” incorrectly, they might take offense. These terms are also quite formal and not used frequently in modern speech. The same is true of “whom,” which is in the oft-used “to whom it may concern.” Stick to something gender-neutral and simple, such as "Dear hiring manager" or "Dear [name]."

Look to the future

A resume provides a look back at your experience and what you've accomplished, but a cover letter focuses on the future and your professional goals. Think about it as the bridge between your professional past and future, explaining what you hope to accomplish next and why it matters. Many people are making career changes, so if you're in this boat, rethink how your skills might apply to a different industry or role.

Avoid jargon

Ann Thariani, president of Gilden Tree Inc., says only a small fraction of the resumes she received when hiring recently were written in “simple English.” The rest included generic business terms, long and complex sentences, and business gobbledygook. Her best advice is to write a cover letter that reflects how you talk so the person reading it can get a sense of who you are and whether you'd be a good fit with the company.

Keep it simple

Less is more when it comes to your cover letter, says Jillian Dube, vice president of People Operations at The Predictive Index: "Job seekers should use their cover letters to draw out a few highlights of why they are applying, not reiterate what is already listed on their resume." An ideal cover letter should be a few sentences long, explaining why you're excited about this job and describing the experience and skills that make you a good fit.

Know your audience

Sometimes you can say something that makes the hiring manager remember you, but not in a good way. For DeeAnn Sims, founder of SPBX, curse words are major turnoffs. "I don't care how 'cool' you think the company is — that will always be considered extremely unprofessional," she says.

Think of other ways to let your personality show, and incorporate "fun and modern" language without resorting to profanity. Sims recalls one memorable candidate who opened his cover letter with a thank you to his parents and student loans for getting him to this point.

Include testimonials

"If you have quotes or words from a reference letter that you could copy and paste and include the contact info of the reference, awesome," says Valerie Streif, formerly the senior advisor at The Mentat. "Sometimes it's better to let others speak on your behalf, and this could carry a lot of weight in your favor."

Do your research

"Generic cover letters are definitely a turnoff simply because it tells you the candidates aren't willing to sacrifice their time for your time," says Judy Tan, a hiring manager for Age Brilliantly. Tan reviews thousands of applications every month and says the key to standing out is customizing the letter to the specific company. "I had a marketing intern apply, and she clearly did her research. How did I know? She gave me three ways to boost our business with clear analysis of why it's worth it."

More tips

Although a cover letter is an important part of your application, the resume is also an essential component. Don't forget to spruce up and customize your resume to include with every application you submit.

These tips outline how to build the perfect resume (with examples):

Use this cover letter template that will get you hired (and thank us later).

Ever wondered how much work history to include on your resume?

Here's a list of the best (and worst) resume words (so you know what to include and what to avoid).

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