Cover Letter Tips To Help You Land The Job (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar and Experts - Mar. 8, 2021

Find a Job You Really Want In

Along with resumes, cover letters are part-and-parcel of the job application process. While your resume acts as a billboard that grabs a recruiter or hiring manager’s attention, your cover letter is more like a movie trailer.

You want the reader to be so intrigued by what you’re offering that they have no choice but to call you in for an interview to learn more.

We’re here to provide actionable tips for writing a cover letter that wows the hiring manager and boosts your chances of getting an interview request.

30 Cover Letter Tips

  1. Keep it short. Your cover letter should never be longer than a page and, ideally, it should be less than half a page.

    People ask “how long should my cover letter be” more than any other question we’ve seen.

    According to the Orange County Resume Survey, every hiring manager agrees it should never go over a page. And, for the most part, everyone agrees shorter is better.

    The goal, and you’ll hear this a lot through the rest of the article, is to sell yourself in about 200 words or less.

  2. Find the hiring manager’s name. Next, people usually worry about who to address a cover letter to.

    With the power of Google, you should be able to find the hiring manager’s name in no more than 15 minutes. Check the job posting to see if a name or email address that’s obviously a name is given.

    If you strike out there, check the company’s website to find a department head or hiring manager that receives application materials. If you’re still stuck, call the company and ask to speak with someone in human resources or the department you’re applying to.

    If you’d rather not call, you can also try scouring LinkedIn for an appropriate recipient, or at least see if a company represenative you find there can point you in the right direction.

  3. If the job postings requires a cover letter, submit one. Everyone has their own opinion on the importance of cover letters. But the fact of the matter is, if a company asks for it, you need to submit it.

    Several hiring managers surveyed mentioned that merely requiring people to submit a cover letter acts as a screening mechanism for on-the-fence applicants.

  4. Get help editing. There are plenty of apps out there, like Hemingway or Grammarly, that can help you do basic editing and spell check, as well as the built-in editing programs that most word processors have.

    The more advanced and paid apps will check for the use of the active tense, measure the reading level, and highlight adverbs. They can make a big difference in helping you sound like a polished professional.

    Don’t stop there, though. Ask a friend or family member to look over your cover letter. They’re more likely to catch little awkward phrases that you failed to notice after re-reading it 30 times. They can also point out ways to improve the tone of your cover letter, which might be difficult for you to pick up on after spending so much time on it.

  5. Display your writing ability. Make sure you’re using concise, articulate sentences.

    Again, you only have about 200 words to sell yourself, so every 10 words of fluff wastes 5% of time you could be showing how you’re an excellent fit for the position. Strong, declarative sentences in the active voice make a bigger impact than wishy-washy language in the passive voice.

    For example, compare the active sentence “I managed a team of 25 sales representatives” with the passive sentence “A team of 25 sales representatives was managed by me.” That’s an extreme example, but there are more subtle moments when you may accidentally slip into the passive voice and hurt your writing quality.

  6. Focus on how you can bring value to the company. It’s not about what the company can offer you; it’s about what you can offer the company. For example:

    Good: My experience creating a sales team in my previous position would allow me to jump into your company and get sales started.

    Bad: This role would give me a great chance to advance my sales career.

    The best way to demonstrate your value is to discuss your previous accomplishments. Always give numbers where you can, because they speak to recruiters’ and hiring managers’ appetites for results.

  7. Keep the cover letter relevant to the position. If the company wants a graphic designer, don’t talk about your favorite marketing tactics to get new clients.

    Keep the whole cover letter laser-focused on the needs of the position at hand and brag about ways your experience helps the specific problems associated with the position.

    The best way to learn what’s relevant is to read the job description carefully. Highlight active verbs in one color and adjectives in a different color.

    Then, think of how your previous experience aligns with those responsibilities and traits. That way, you’ll have plenty of truthful examples that align perfectly with the keywords from the job posting.

  8. Never use a copy and paste template. Every cover letter should be customized to the position and company as every position has something unique about it.

    While you can use templates and case studies to get a sense of how to write a good cover letter, don’t just use the built-in cover letters in Microsoft Word.

    Remember that hiring managers and recruiters comb through hundreds of cover letters — if you don’t take the time to make each one interesting, you can’t expect them to take the time to give you a chance.

  9. Highlight important achievements. Only use accomplishments that relate to the needs of the position at hand.

    You want to showcase how you can repeat the achievement for the hiring company. The end result of highlighting your achievement shows how you will add value to the new organization.

    Remember our advice from above — quantify every accomplishment you can. It makes it easier for the hiring manager to understand how your past results indicate future success with a similar task or responsibility.

  10. Cover letters let you show your ability to communicate. A good cover letter is like a firm handshake; it’s how a hiring manager generates a first impression.

    A strong cover letter essentially demonstrates your ability to take all these tips and incorporate them in a succinct and effective way.

  11. Use full sentences. Remember that you’re writing for a potential manager. Aim to write in full sentences that each communicate an idea.

    The only exception is if you choose to incorporate bullet points into your cover letter. In that case, each bullet point can be a sentence fragment, as long as it’s clear what you’re expressing.

  12. Hiring managers look for attention to detail in cover letters. Every single hiring manager looks for spelling mistakes and grammar issues. The basic saying goes, “If you can’t spend enough time to proofread your cover letter, how will you ever pay attention to detail on a daily basis”.

    Hiring managers normally have so many applicants that they look for reasons not to advance past cover letters. Don’t give them a simple reason to move you into the reject pile by forgetting to change the name of the company or using their wrong address.

  13. Try to include some numbers to back up your accomplishments. There’s a reason BuzzFeed lists always include numbers in the title — numbers resonate well with people and get them engaged.

    If you managed a budget, mention the size. If you increased revenue, by how much? A team of people, how many?

    It will give the hiring manager a sense of the magnitude of your experience.

    If you’re having trouble, think:

    • Scale. “Oversaw a warehouse of 25 employees and $500,000 worth of merchandise”

    • Range. “Published 5-8 articles a month”

    • Rate. “Increased sales by 15% over three months”

    • Frequency. “Performed daily check-ins with new clients”

  14. Don’t repeat your resume. This piece of advice is a bit tricky. You want to mention your achievements and experience without going into the nitty-gritty detail.

    Think of your resume as answering the who/what/where/when while your cover letter focuses on the why and how. Go into more detail about your past accomplishments, describe how your experience could help solve the company’s issues, and discuss trends in the industry like an expert (if you can do so competently).

    Re-read the job description to ensure that you’re using your cover letter to shine a magnifying glass on the most impressive aspects of your background featured in your resume.

  15. Research the company. Every company should have a website — read it.

    Most sites have an “About Us” section that communicates company values and ideas. Even if no such page exists, you should be able to get a sense of the company through the marketing and branding on the site.

    You can also read through employee reviews, look up company representatives and/or high-ranking employees on LinkedIn, or check for any social media activity that gives you a sense of the company culture.

    Take the values of the company and try to incorporate them into the cover letter.

    How to write a cover letter

  16. Reference the position and/or company you are applying for. Pretty straightforward reminder here.

    You don’t (read shouldn’t) need to be super cliche and start with “My name is Chris Kolmar and I’m applying for the editor role at Zippia.”

    Instead, talk about a general work passion or a passion you have for the company. Make it easy for the recipient to understand from the get-go what job you want and why you’re perfect for it.

  17. Add a hint of personality. While the cover letter aims to demonstrate how you’d add value to the company, no one said it has to be boring.

    If you have a personality, let it show through subtly. You don’t need to be a ninja or a guru, but if you try to make your cover letter a bit more fun, it may provide that little extra spice to get you an interview request.

    Hiring managers aren’t just reading these things for the qualifications and skills — if possible, they’d also like to hire someone who they and their teams will get along with.

  18. Don’t sell yourself short. You have no need for self doubt on a cover letter.

    Never include lines like “I’m sure you’re getting candidates much more qualified than me, but..” or “I’ve never done this before, but…”

    Focus on how your specific experiences and abilities would allow you to do the job. If you don’t think you can do the job, why would a hiring manager think otherwise?

  19. When available, submit your cover letter as a PDF file. PDFs have a bunch of advantages:

    • They maintain formatting as they get passed around and printed

    • They can’t be edited easily between when you submit it and it meets its intended target

    • They can be read across most devices (including smartphones)

  20. Unfortunately, some sites only accept .txt or .doc files, so PDFs aren’t an option there.

    But if you can control it, go PDF.

  21. Don’t be overly formal. Save the over the top formalities and greetings for country clubs and renaissance fairs.

    The intro to the cover letter should focus on creating a rapport with the reader in some way. Talk to them like you were sitting across the table at an interview, not a debutante ball.

    “Dear Sir or Madam” is out, as is “To Whom It May Concern.” “Dear Hiring Manager” has it’s place, but consider one of its alternatives if you can’t find the recipient’s name.

  22. Sell yourself in 200 words. That’s the entire exercise of a cover letter. It’s your written elevator pitch.

    By the end of the letter, you should feel comfortable that it reflects what you’ve accomplished and how it can be applied to help the hiring company’s needs.

    Just don’t continue to ramble on or you’ll lose the reader very quickly.

  23. Make the cover letter readable and, ideally, skimmable. While you need to write in full sentences, you don’t need to write four sentence paragraphs with 25 words per sentence.

    Put different thoughts on new lines and get the gist across on the first line of a paragraph.

    It’s like reading this post. If you just read each of the 30 points, you’d know the gist of what I’m talking about without reading the detail below them.

  24. Open strong to get them hooked. In journalism, there’s the concept of the inverted pyramid which states that your lede (intro) should tell the main point of the story right off the bat.

    Put differently, lead with your best stuff.

    Get them interested in learning more about you right away and don’t save the punch line for the last sentence.

  25. Express enthusiasm. It’s good to give a hiring manager a sense of why you’re applying to this place/position. There are very likely many openings with the same title and responsibilities, so why does this particular job stand out to you?

    Reasons could be that it’s a product you’ve used in the past and enjoyed. It could be because of the direction you see the company going in. Or it could be the values and culture of the company that speak to you.

    Let the reader know why.

  26. Don’t be overawed. It’s good to express enthusiasm, but you don’t want to sound like a tween at a boy band concert trying to get your crush’s autograph.

    That’s not how you want to start out your relationship with an employer.

    Hiring companies want you to have a passion for the brand or product, but communicate it subtly and with professionalism. Respect and compliments have their place in cover letters, but careful you don’t cross the line into creepy super fandom.

  27. Don’t try to be funny. There’s a reason it’s hard to be a comedian. Unless you think you have a really strong understanding of the hiring manager’s humor, you probably shouldn’t include any jokes or sarcasm.

    At some level, you want to minimize the risks of a cover letter, and humor is a high-risk proposition with limited upside.

    Try to find another way to be memorable.

  28. Use a standard font and font size. Using a different font, like trying to be funny, has a lot of downside with not a ton of upside.

    Sure you might look the look of Comic Sans or Arial Bold, but why put off a hiring manager that’s expecting Times New Roman or Arial?

    Keep it simple and stick no frills fonts like:

    • Times New Roman

    • Verdana

    • Arial

    • Georgia

  29. Use as few words as possible to get your meaning across. When trying to impress people, some have a tendency to use big words and long, complex sentences. It’s rarely a good idea.

    “In my last job, I synergized with people from other departments on a regular basis to execute on our detailed marketing plans.”

    or

    “In my last job, I worked on a cross functional team to further the company’s main objectives.”

    Less is more.

  30. Don’t stress out over every detail. There are a ton of guides out there like this one and we suggest reading them all.

    You’ll learn the important takeaways that act as kind of a reminder on the wall of what goes into a good cover letter. Write those down.

    After you’ve produced a first draft, go check the draft against the takeaways and see if there’s anything to add/remove/change.

    Rinse and repeat until you get what you think is a solid end result.

  31. Be yourself. At the end of the day, your cover letter becomes a reflection of yourself, experiences, and values.

    You need to be comfortable with everything you say on it. So feel free to break the rules and suggestions we laid out here if they don’t feel right for you.

    Just don’t forget to gauge the results — if a certain style of cover letter-writing isn’t working for you, adjust and improve.

Example Cover Letter

Dear Hiring Manager,
I’ve spent the last four-plus years developing a team that studies the underbelly of the internet — how do people find sites, what makes people take action when they get there, and why do they share sites with friends. Through this experience, I’ve gained skills in SEO, driving organic website traffic, and increasing the conversion rate of landing pages.

I want to apply these skills as the Marketing Manager Of Customer Acquisition at Citrix.

At Movoto, I put together a team of about 20 people focused on customer acquisition across all online marketing channels. During that time, we increased traffic 5x to 21 million visits per month by utilizing SEO, content marketing, and paid acquisition.

Developing a similar team at Citrix could open up new avenues for customer acquisition. We would conduct user interviews, competitor analysis, and market research with the aim of creating a detailed acquisition plan. The plan would be tailored to our target audience, demonstrate how Citrix products help them get more done, and communicate the brand.

I look forward to discussing my skills and experience with you, and how I would be a good fit at Citrix, in the near future.

Chris Kolmar

Final Thoughts

Cover letters can be scary to write, especially if you’re unsure of your writing abilities. Just remember that cover letters also follow a pretty standard format — your job is just to fill in the blanks in a way that makes sense for you and the job you’re applying for.

Don’t get paralyzed trying to incorporate all 30 tips from above right away. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start with a judgment-free draft and then use these tips to refine what you’ve written.

With a little work, you’ll have a perfect cover letter in no time.

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Author

Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

Expert

Matt Warzel, CPRW, CIR

Matt Warzel a President of a resume writing firm (MJW Careers, LLC) with 15+ years of recruitment, outplacement, career coaching and resume writing experience. Matt is also a Certified Professional Resume Writer (CPRW) and Certified Internet Recruiter (CIR) with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration (Marketing Focus) from John Carroll University.

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