How To Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out In 12 Easy Steps

By Maddie Lloyd
Apr. 13, 2021

Find a Job You Really Want In

There’s a lot that goes into writing a cover letter. If you’re new on the job scene, you’ve got to scrounge up some experience to include, learn how to make your writing readable to someone other than yourself, and you have to find out which mistakes to avoid so you don’t end up looking like a job-hunting rookie. Ugh, when does it end?

Here’s the deal:

Writing a cover letter can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, there are many tips and tricks of the trade that can make your cover letter better than you ever thought possible. Lucky for you, we’ve got them all right here. You’re welcome.

Here’s everything you need to make your cover letter stand out in 12 easy steps:

1Address Your Cover Letter to a Specific Person

Do what you can to find the exact name of the person who’s going to be reading your letter. This will make your cover letter more personalized, and they’ll appreciate that you took the steps to learn about who you’re writing to.

If the person’s name isn’t available directly anywhere in the job listing or on the company website, call the company and ask who the HR representative or hiring manager is for the position.

Never use outdated salutations like “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.” Using phrases like these shows that you didn’t do your homework and that you’re probably 100 years old.

If you’ve tried your best but haven’t been able to find the recipient’s name, you can use “Dear Hiring Manager” or one of its better-sounding alternatives.

2Keep It Simple and Concise

Yes, it can be a challenge to describe how awesome you are within one page, but try not to go overboard. Cover letters should be a page or less, and the longer your cover letter is, the more you risk losing the employer’s attention.

Most hiring managers and recruiters agree that the ideal cover letter length is closer to half a page — these are busy people, after all. If you can say everything you need to say in 200 words, that’s great; don’t feel pressured to add more just to fill up space. 400 words is an absolute maximum, but sub-300 is the sweet spot.

If your cover letter is too lengthy, cut out unnecessary information and just leave in only the most important information.

3Leave Plenty of White Space

You don’t want your cover letter to look cramped or overcrowded with information — this makes you appear to be sloppy and unprofessional. Include spaces between your greeting, the body of your letter, and your signature, and make sure to have appropriate margins (the standard 1-inch margins are fine).

A cover letter that’s tidy and concise is much easier to read than one that’s overloaded with unnecessary details. The hiring manager will thank you for not wasting their time.

4Use the Same Font as Your Resume

Using a cohesive font with your application materials will make it look like you really have your life together. Using a clean, readable font like Times New Roman or Arial for your cover letter and resume will look neat and professional.

Font sizes should generally be 12-point, and you should avoid busy or distracting visual elements like underlined, highlighted, colored, or capitalized text.

Bold or italics can be used to emphasize key information or separate bullet point entries, but choose one or the other; don’t include both bold and italic text in your cover letter.

How to write a cover letter

5Don’t Just Rehash Your Resume

Your cover letter should complement your resume and specifically tell the employer how you meet their qualifications and what you can do for their company.

Regurgitating all of the information the hiring manager has already read on your resume is a huge waste of everyone’s time — including yours. Use your cover letter to focus on the specific skills that will benefit the company and provide a fuller picture of you as an employee.

Think of your resume as answering the “who, what, where, when” and your cover letter answering the “how” and “why.” That means your personality, work style, and unique perspective on how to get your job done should come through alongside your passion for the profession. That’s the kind of stuff you can’t find in a resume.

6Open Strong

What better way to show off your candidacy than to highlight your most impressive skills from the very beginning? Describe your previous leadership positions, relevant achievements, and advanced skills in your first paragraph — this will ensure that you grab their attention as soon as they start reading.

If you’re not sure which of your many amazing experiences or skills to include, refer to the qualifications included in the job listing. When you show that you meet the employer’s top requirements, you’ll make them want to keep reading the rest of your cover letter.

7Use Numbers and Statistics

Employers love to see numbers, and using statistics to illustrate the achievements you’ve earned with a company is a great way to show them that you’re focused on making an impact and getting results.

If you’ve improved employee participation in company fundraisers, include the percent increase. If you earned more money for your division than your predecessor, share the monetary difference. Using numbers will add value to your past work experiences, and make you seem more credible.

Numbers are your friend, even if you failed math repeatedly in college — we’ll just keep that our little secret.

8Give Examples of Your Skills

Employers love stories — it helps them visualize you putting to use the skills you claim to have, and it makes you seem like you’re not just talking out of your ass.

Use a descriptive statement to show off a skill, like “I’m an expert maintenance technician with experience working on utility-scale solar fields,” and follow them up with a short anecdote:

“I have personally performed operations and maintenance on utility-scale, high voltage solar farms across the state, repairing and maintaining solar inverters and installing panels as needed.”

And just like that, you’ve made your cover letter more compelling. Way to go.

9Customize Your Cover letter for Every Application

You should never use a generic, one-size-fits-all cover letter for every job you apply for. Employers can tell, and it basically just says “I literally could not care less about your company or the position.” Ouch.

Customize your letter for the specific job you’re applying for. Mention the company name, the title of the position, and directly address any of your qualifications that match the job requirements.

Your cover letter is your sales pitch to get an interview, so you’ll want to show what you can do for their company specifically.

A good way to make sure you hit all of the employer’s needs is by reviewing the job description and highlighting action verbs in one color and skills or adjectives in a different color. Then, look for ways to naturally incorporate that same language into your cover letter.

10Leave Out Unnecessary Information

If a sentence doesn’t directly show off your candidacy for the job at hand, it’s not worth including in your cover letter. Never include personal information, and leave out your salary requirements unless the employer specifically asks for them.

Leave out details about leaving your last job, particularly if you were fired, and never badmouth any of your former bosses. Keep your cover letter focused on your credentials and make sure it stays professional.

11Proofread, Proofread, and Proofread Again

There’s nothing worse than sending in a cover letter and realizing five minutes later that you spelled the company name (or your own name) wrong. Yikes, that would just be embarrassing.

Carefully proofread your letter, and even read it out loud to pick up any mistakes in grammar or syntax. You could even ask a friend or relative to look over it for you. If you can’t find a helper, we recommend reading your cover letter backwards — seeing each sentence in a different order does wonders for recognizing awkward phrases.

Whatever you do, just make sure to proofread your cover letter to avoid any embarrassing spelling or grammar mistakes. You probably won’t get the job of your dreams if your letter is addressed to Walt Fisney World.

12Include an Email Signature

When you send in your cover letter, include a signature with your name, email address, and phone number. It shows that you’re interested in following up and makes it easier for the employer to get in contact with you. Simple as that.

You can also include a hyperlink to an online portfolio, personal website, or LinkedIn profile. That way, the hiring manager has a ready way to find out more information about you if they’re interested. Just make sure that any extra info you include directs them to a page you’re proud of, not a LinkedIn page with nothing but a headshot and 2 connections.

Final Thoughts

Cover letters can be tricky. You have to learn how to sell yourself the specific wants and needs a particular company is looking for, and you have to do so in a way that’s believable and compelling.

It sounds tough, but it’s not as hard as it seems! Follow these 12 steps and you’re sure to impress employers and land an interview.

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Maddie Lloyd

Maddie Lloyd was a writer for the Zippia Advice blog focused on researching tips for interview, resume, and cover letter preparation. She's currently a graduate student at North Carolina State University's department of English concentrating in Film and Media Studies.

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Topics: Cover Letter