Cover Letter Best Practices

10 Tips for the Perfect Cover Letter

If you’re applying for internships or entry-level jobs, you may be wondering how and when to write a cover letter. While many jobs no longer require cover letters (especially those on WayUp), in cases where a cover letter is required, writing a well-crafted letter can be a key part of landing an interview.

These 10 tips will help you write the perfect cover letter:

1. Start strong.

In addition to informing your reader what position you’re applying for, your first one or two sentences should identify the qualities and experience that make you a strong candidate for the position. If you don’t have relevant prior work experience, briefly describe how your coursework or extracurricular activities have provided you with the foundation you need to establish your career.

Say something like: “Please accept my application for the editorial assistant position. As an English major at and a fiction editor for the literary journal there, my knowledge of contemporary literature combined with the administrative experience I gained during a previous internship has prepared me to contribute to all aspects of the publishing process.”

Pro Tip: Find out the name of the hiring manager and address the letter directly to them. If you’re not able to find a direct contact then address the letter to the department you’re applying to.

2. Keep it short.

Take the space you need to specify what you have to offer an organization, but don’t go overboard. There’s no need to go beyond a page, and your letter should consist of three or four brief paragraphs at most. A concise — and compelling — cover letter is your first chance to demonstrate that you can communicate effectively.

3. Language matters.

While your cover letter shouldn’t read as though you cut and pasted the job description, it should mirror the language used to describe the skills and qualities required for the position. Hiring managers and the algorithms that are increasingly being used to parse job applications are looking for particular keywords, so make sure to use them.

For example, if the job description outlines skills x, y and z as being required for the position, make sure you use the same language when you’re highlighting your skill set and experience.

4. Know your audience.

Remember that you are writing for a prospective employer, not your best friend or a family member. The language you use when you fire off a quick email or text is not appropriate for a cover letter. It’s ok to be conversational in tone, but you don’t want to be too casual. You also don’t want to be overly formal. Try and strike the right balance between personable and professional.

5. Customize the content.

You may be wondering if you need to write a different cover letter for each job you apply for. The answer is yes. While there’s a general formula for how your cover letter should look — introductory paragraph, one or two paragraphs explaining what you have to offer the organization, and the conclusion — each company has its own culture, which should be reflected in your content. You wouldn’t send the same cover letter for a job at a startup providing services for millennials as you would to an established investment firm serving retirees.

Pro Tip: Customizing your cover letter is actually not as hard as it sounds. Once you have one or two templates you’re comfortable with, you’ll be able to customize each letter fairly easily by swapping out certain key phrases and company-specific information.

6. Make it new.

Don’t simply restate what’s already listed on your resume. The cover letter is your opportunity to meaningfully expand on that information and give your potential manager insight into the kind of employee you will be. Relate specific anecdotes or statistics that highlight your qualifications and strengths.

7. Avoid clichés.

If you describe yourself as an “out-of-the-box” thinker, the hiring manager likely won’t believe it. That’s because the phrase itself has become so overused that it no longer suggests creativity or originality. Instead of relying on hackneyed language to describe yourself, take the time to relate an instance where you posed a creative solution to a problem you faced. Just make sure it’s relevant to the position you’re applying for, or that it reveals qualities that position you as a good fit for the company. In other words, at the risk of sounding clichéd, “Show, don’t tell.”

8. Make it about them.

Don’t make the mistake of expressing what a particular company can offer you instead of what you can offer the company. Would-be employers aren’t so interested in how much you’ll learn on the job, or that the position is the stepping stone you need to make it in a particular industry (even if that may very well be true). They want to know how you’ll contribute to the organization, so make sure the focus of your letter remains on how great you are, not the company.

9. Follow instructions.

Before you send off your materials, reread the job ad. Does it require additional materials, such as a link to a portfolio, writing samples, or recommendations on your LinkedIn profile? If you don’t follow the application instructions, hiring managers may be left with the impression that you are unable to do what is asked of you. Missing materials, late deadlines or cover letters that exceed one page are easy ways for potential employers to eliminate applicants. Make sure you aren’t one of them by following instructions.

10. Sweat the small stuff.

There’s no room for error when it comes to your job application materials. After you’ve finished a draft of your letter, give yourself some time away from it and come back with fresh eyes to revise and edit. Read it out loud to yourself to catch missing words and awkward phrasing, and have someone else proofread it.

As daunting as they may be to write, cover letters are an opportunity for you to let your potential employer get to know you. These tips will ensure you leave a lasting and favorable impression as you begin applying for positions. And once you land that first internship or entry-level job, you’ll have more material to work with for future cover letters.

Next, get more career tips for internships and entry-level jobs such as 6 Things to Do in Your First Week at a New Job and find answers to common interview questions such as Are You Willing to Travel?