How to Write an Effective Cover Letter

Cover letter basics

By Freddie Rohner, iHire | February 01, 2014

Woman working on cover letter on latop

Although some employers no longer request cover letters, many recruiters do still expect to see them. That means that writing a strong cover letter is still an important step in your job search. To write a cover letter that will be noticed by employers there are a few guidelines that every job seeker should know: keep it short and sweet, don’t feel the need to be overly formal or flowery with the language you use, brag about your accomplishments (now is not the time for modesty), make the cover letter a little bit different from your resume, utilize your contacts (name drop), and include specific details about the company you would like to work for.


1.  Keep it short, sweet, and as straightforward as possible

The most important tip for cover letter writing is to keep it short. The cover letter is supposed to entice the reader to continue on to your resume, so not only will it be ineffective to include your entire professional history in the cover letter, it will be positively counterproductive. In addition to brevity, it is also essential to be straightforward; don’t beat around the bush, cut to the chase and let the reader know your intentions from the very beginning: "I am writing to express my interest in the Accounting Manager position as advertised on"


2.  Be professional, but not overly formal.

Resist the urge to be too clever for your own good. The language you use in your cover letter must be professional, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be overflowing with ten-dollar words. Filling your cover letter with grandiose verbiage will probably make your cover letter stand out, but not for the reasons you want it to: "As emerging whispers arouse complacency to those open for acceptance, I find myself embracing the winds of fate as I hunger to continue the unwavering journey towards professional excellence."


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3.  Boast about your achievements.

Just as with your resume, employers will be looking at the cover letter with the intent of finding out what YOU can offer THEM. So now is not the time to hold back. Did you increase revenue by 50% at your most current position? Mention that on the cover letter. Did you develop a new process that cut employee overtime by 20% and made it possible to get deliveries out ahead of schedule, further enhancing customer satisfaction? Make sure that’s included where potential employers will notice it. Did your managerial style improve employee retention (or eliminate turnover altogether)? Brag about it! If you are not touting your accomplishments on the cover letter, recruiters and potential employers may not take the time to move on to your resume.


4.  Do not include word for word phrases from the resume.

Although you want to highlight some of the same accomplishments in your cover letter as you do in your resume do not, under any circumstances, copy and paste word for word sentences or bullet points from your resume. This will stand out to the reader and will demonstrate at best a lack of creativity, at worst a lack of effort and interest – or downright laziness.


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5.  Name drop if you can and ALWAYS do some preliminary research on the company.

Just as you should not be bashful with your accomplishments, don’t hesitate to take advantage of contacts you have with certain companies. If you heard about an opening at a company from your friend who works in Quality Control, let them know that "Joe Jones suggested I contact you about the opening in your Distribution Department as he was convinced my unique experience and wide ranging qualifications would be a good fit with Acme Company." Being able to claim support from a current employee for your assertion as the perfect fit for the open position will separate you from the crowd and will be memorable  even if for no other reason than the hiring manager must remember long enough to ask the contact if they do, in fact, know you.

Following this same principle, you can also make your cover letter stand out by doing some minor research and including specific details about the company. For instance, "Having read about your recent merger with McConnell Flavoring Company, I believe my experience in spice and flavor production will be invaluable as you incorporate the additional personnel, equipment, and facilities following this exciting acquisition." Here, not only has the writer mentioned specific details about the company, but they have also tied it back to their worth as an employee and what they have to offer.


After spending so much time writing, editing, and revising your resume, the cover letter may seem like an afterthought. However, if you do not put the same amount of effort into crafting your cover letter, all that work you put into the resume may not matter because a poorly written cover letter will keep recruiters and potential employers from examining your resume. If you keep your cover letter short and to the point, utilize exciting and professional language that highlights your qualifications and key achievements (with different wording than what’s on the resume), and incorporate contacts and company research, you will have a winning cover letter to go with your carefully constructed resume.