Do’s and don’ts for writing a cover letter

A well-written cover letter may be exactly what your application needs to land an interview.

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Even if an employer doesn’t ask for one, submitting a cover letter can be the key to landing your next job. Think of it as a complement to your resume — highlighting your strongest qualifications in a narrative format. When well written, cover letters can help you stand out against other applicants.

However, like every other part of the job search, there are definitely some crucial do’s and don’ts. Use the following tips for writing a cover letter that will help you sell your best self to recruiters.

What to do: Personalize, proofread, and add in powerful statements

Do personalize your cover letters for each employer. While it’s OK to use some of the same examples for more than one employer, you must add in at least a few sentences using key phrases and requests from the job description. Remember, this is your chance to explain why you’re an ideal candidate and how you plan to accomplish the specific goals outlined in the job description. And, make sure you’re answering any questions from the job post in your cover letter. For example, if the job description asks you to describe your experience working internationally in your cover letter, do it!

Do proofread. Failing to check for errors in your cover letter may hurt your chances of getting an interview. It’s also important to have your cover letter read by a friend who will give you an honest opinion about what you may need to work on or change. Many typos and grammatical errors may give the employer a bad first impression — and land you in the “no” pile.

Do start and end powerfully. Start out by stating the position you’re applying for and your intent. You’ll want to lead with why you are applying to the company, then identify what skills you’ll bring and how you’ll utilize these skills to help make your team successful. Before you sign off, be sure to restate how vital your skills are to the role, and don’t be afraid to request an interview. Confidence is key.

Do ensure a smooth delivery. You want to make sure your cover letter can actually be read by recruiters, which means making sure your file can be opened and easily saved. First, bundle your cover letter with your resume: Your cover letter can be page one, while your resume is page two. Otherwise, they may get separated. Second, make sure to use a common file format for your letter — a PDF file or Microsoft Word document works well. Finally, title your file name simply: It should be your first name, last name, and the word “resume.” (So, for example: Joe Smith Resume.pdf)

What not to do: Be repetitive, include irrelevant experience, or write a long letter

Don’t repeat yourself. Avoid restating all of your achievements that are already on your resume. Instead, provide examples that reinforce why those achievements will help in the role you’re applying for. Use this opportunity to include details that you weren’t able to fit into your resume.

Don’t waste time detailing irrelevant skills and experience. You’re likely applying for multiple jobs, and it’s not unusual for these positions to list different responsibilities. Do not wax poetic about your capabilities with Adobe Creative Suite if the job description doesn’t mention anything about using it. It may be time to delete some of those proud accomplishments to make space for relevant ones — at least in some specific letters.

Don’t be long-winded. Aim to keep your cover letters concise — one page with three to five short paragraphs. Cut the fluff and remember to use more descriptive statements that clearly show what you’re capable of. The last thing you want is for the recruiter to skip over your application because of a three-page cover letter.