Writing a Compelling Cover Letter: Get Your Resume Noticed!

Your resume has been updated and thoroughly polished for errors. Your skillset shows you to be versatile, your past employment and experiences reveal a well-rounded and dedicated worker, and your credentials shine. Now you are prepared to send your resume out to prospective employers. Several positions catch your eye, but you know the competition will be fierce. How will you stand out from the rest? Most likely, you will need to write a compelling cover letter to accompany your resume. Do not underestimate the power of the cover letter! A memorable and engagingly written letter may pique an employer’s interest enough to pursue you further, whereas an error-ridden or generic one may get your resume quickly tossed aside, no matter how qualified you may be. If you have never written a cover letter before, do not fear. Below are several tips to help you craft a compelling cover letter that will make employers intrigued by your candidacy.

#1 – Be specific.

The more general you are in your letter, the less an employer will know about you. This may seem obvious, but keep in mind: anyone can tell prospective employers what they “want” to hear—that she is a hard worker, that she has significant experience in the field, that she is most suitable for the job, and so on. But the purpose of the cover letter is to convince employers of these things. When writing your letter, aim to abide by the rules of good fiction: “Show, don’t tell.” If you are a natural leader, do not just state the fact without backing it up. Give an example, perhaps even a brief anecdote. For example, if you wanted to portray your leadership skills to an employer, you might mention how you initiated and saw through a team project at a previous job. This concrete detail will reveal that you understand what makes a leader, why it is a desirable trait, and most important, how you personally manifest it.

You should also be specific when talking about why you would be the best fit for the position at hand. Remember that you are selling yourself. When a product is advertised in a magazine ad or on television, it is not just hailed as the best on the market; the ad will illustrate exactly why its product outshines all the others. Pitch yourself similarly in your cover letter. Try to avoid canned letters, or one form letter that you modify only minimally for different positions. While having a template handy is fine, make sure that the important details are unique. If the position calls for an effective communicator who can give engaging oral presentations, make sure to share an anecdote of a time you did just that if you have one (Adams; “How to Write a Cover Letter”). Again, this specificity will reflect positively on you and show the employer that you understand the demands of the job and are prepared to perform.

#2 – Be concise.

Yes, being specific is important, but doing it in as few words as possible is perhaps even more important. You want to grab an employer’s attention and keep it. You do not want to grab it and then give them time to drop it after several paragraphs of rambling on with irrelevant information. But how will you know what to cut? Try having someone read it over for you. Ask your reader to find three specific things the letter reveals about you, or at least one main point that you would want an employer to get from it. If your reader cannot succinctly identify any real point or points, then your letter may need some more polishing.

#3 – Be formal—but do not be so formal that the humanity is drained out of your letter.

Perhaps this tip echoes the sentiment of the first: do not just give employers what you think they want to hear. This tip will focus more on form rather than on content. The first thing to watch when writing your cover letter is your prose style. Make sure that you write in complete sentences and refrain from using slang. That said, avoid verbosity. Simple words will do, especially when well-chosen and used clearly. Do not attempt to decorate your prose with “fancy” words that add nothing to your purpose or—even worse—obscure it. If you share an anecdote, tell it in the same language you would use if you were talking to an acquaintance: not so conversational that everyday speech saturates the narrative, but simple enough to engage any audience of reasonable intelligence. After all, your goal is to make the employer want to seek you out and to understand you better.

#4 – Offer some form of follow-up.

When your letter is about to come to a close, be sure to invite the reader to contact you for further information, be it through email, telephone, or some other form of communication. Show that you are enthusiastic to take the next step and willing to initiate it yourself.

Writing a cover letter may appear to be a daunting task, but it does not have to be. Remember that your cover letter gives you the opportunity to expand upon points in your resume that employers might not glean when reading it on their own. It also allows you to sell yourself according to the specific demands of the job. Take advantage of that opportunity. Perhaps the most valuable thing you can offer an employer for the first time is memorability


Works Cited

Adams, Susan. “How To Write A Cover Letter.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 24 Mar. 2011. Web. 16 July 2015.

Jacqueline Hill, Esq.

This post was written by .

Jacqueline Hill is a partner at Lexacount Search, where she places top senior-level and other legal talent with law firms and corporate legal departments across the United States. She has been writing about careers, lawyers, attorney professional development, and the legal industry for more than a decade. She can be reached at jacqueline.hill@lexacount.com or 215-740-0104, extension 101.

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