Write a Cover Letter that Gets Noticed

Last Updated Jun 23, 2011 11:41 AM EDT


The subject of this column isn't new. And what I'm about to say has been said before, but it all bears repeating. Most of the people I've spoken to who sift through cover letters tell me that way too many are just boring, vague or ineffective. Those land in the trash.

So what does a cover letter need to get noticed? Here are 7 tips:

1. Remember to sell yourself. A cover letter is a sales pitch. And while you may think you are too good to sell yourself, get over it. All of us who believe in something important are selling â€" be it a proposition, an idea, or maybe ourselves. This, by the way, doesn't mean you steal credit--just that you emphasize your very real accomplishments.

2. Demonstrate interest in the job. Sounds obvious, right? But so many people don't bother to do homework on the company at which they are applying. Reference something about what you have learned in your cover letter. This is where you can tailor the needs of the company to the capabilities you offer.

3. Be declarative. A good cover letter is a page. Get to the point quickly, telling what you've accomplished. "This is what I have accomplished--"

4. Omit the conditional. Avoid statements such as, "As conditions warranted..," or "Given the circumstances--" Conditionals detract from the power of your message. Drop them.

5. Avoid the passive voice. Using the passive voice makes you sound like a bystander. Instead of "Our effort was led by me," write, "I led our effort." Remember, you are the initiator.

6. Proof it. Take it from me, a Class D proof reader: don't click send until you have a trusted friend or your spouse read your letter over to check for clarity â€" did you mean to say that? -- and typos â€" Oops!

7. Be humble. This is a caveat to the first item on this list. You are pitching yourself but remember that as a leader you achieve good results through the efforts of others. It is always good to mention how you work well with and through others.


For those of you who were just checking to see that you already knew what I was going to write, give yourself a pat on the back. For anyone else, I hope these tips point you in the right direction.

Good luck, and good writing. Your next job may depend upon it-- but of course you already know that.

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