4-Step Formula to Writing Better Cover Letters

4-Step Formula to Writing Better Cover Letters was originally published on Vault.

Writing a cover letter when applying for jobs is the easiest way to improve your chances of getting the job. In fact, hiring experts believe good cover letters increase your chances of getting hired by about 90 percent. And these days, just like they use application tracking systems to scrape resumes, hiring managers use ATS software to scrape cover letters, meaning it’s now more than ever before essential to write great letters. With that in mind, here are four simple steps you can take to create cover letters that will stand out.  

Step #1: Impress within 30 seconds

First impressions are vital. A cover letter is the first interaction between hiring managers and applicants. Unlike your resume, your cover letter is your chance to get your personality across. The objective is to make the reader curious enough to read your resume or invite for a job interview. You have only 30 seconds to impress hiring managers—this is the average time they spend on reading an application. The maximum length of a successful cover letter is half a page or a couple of short paragraphs. One-page long letters are evidence of applicants' inability to get their messages across concisely. It also shows a lack of respect for the recruiter's time. On the other hand, the two-sentence message with little substance often ends up in the trash bin.

Step #2: Personalize

Don't use the same  cover letter for every job you apply for. To personalize your application, you should do some research on the company (website, articles, social networks), find the name of the person who's recruiting (use Google, LinkedIn, and other social networks or call the company), and perhaps find a project you're interested in at the company and tell how you can improve it by using your skills and experience. With your cover letter, your goal is to show that you took time and effort to write to the company—and to that company specifically. Your letter will stand out among the crowd of applicants if it contains company-specific information. Note that if you can't find the name of the hiring manager, use “Dear hiring manager” rather than “To whom it may concern.” Also note that, if you’re a gig worker or freelancer, it’s even more essential to write personalize cover letters.

Step #3: Remember, it's not about you, it's about them

Don't start writing a cover letter with how good you are or what you want. You also don't want to explain why you need the job. Instead, one of the most important cover letter tips is to tell the hiring officials what you can do for the company or a project. Avoid writing, “I am looking for a company where I can advance my career.” If you don't have an idea on how you can be helpful in the position you're applying for, use something like: “I am sure I would be a great set to your team, because …” Remember, you want to get across how you can help a company and what you can add to it, not what it can do for you. You would be surprised at how many applicants get this wrong, so remembering this will significantly improve your chances of getting the interview.

Step #4: Put it in the body of the email and check grammar

These days, you should almost never send your cover letter as an attachment. Attaching it adds an unnecessary step—which might never be taken. By attaching another document, you add obstacles for a manager to read your application. So make sure to send it in the body of an email. Also, it should go without saying, but you should always proofread your letter closely and check for any grammatical mistakes; you might want to use online services or a professional proofreader for that.

Here are some things to look out for: make sure to use active sentences rather than passive ones, don't use intensifiers like very or extremely, never use emojis, and use Mr. or Ms. plus a surname when addressing the letter, rather than a first name (and if you don't know if it's Ms. or Mrs. use Ms.).

Susan Wallace, a professional hiring manager, is interested in educating job applicants. She provides essay writing services online, and believes that its essential to invest time and effort into the application process. In her practice, she never considers an application without a cover letter.