If you purchase an independently reviewed product or service through a link on our website, Rolling Stone may receive an affiliate commission.
Every job-seeker in today’s market asks themselves the same question — is writing a cover letter for every application still necessary? Do recruiters even still read them anymore? You might be surprised to find that the answer is almost always yes. According to ResumeLab, 83% of recruiters agree that, while not necessary for every position, a well-written cover letter are important to their hiring decision (36% say they even read the cover letter before your resume!).
But even before you get to the stage where a hiring manager is considering you for the position, having a thought-out cover letter is still important. For open positions advertised online (like on job boards such as ZipRecruiter, or internal career sites), 61% recruiters require cover letters in your application.
Don’t know how to write a cover letter (or a stand-out one)? Whether it’s been a while since you’ve been actively job searching, or you’re fresh out of school and new to the market, everyone can benefit from learning how to tailor their cover letter to the position they’re applying for. Not only should it explain how you’re a good fit for the specific role, but for the company culture as well.
The main thing you need to keep in mind is that your cover letter should focus on experience that’s relevant to the specific job you’re applying for (having multiple cover letters is important). These days, many job board sites use advanced AI programs to parse through your cover letter and pick out key words about your qualifications and skills to determine whether you’re a match for the position, or even the company hiring. You need to be able to summarize succinctly why you’re the best person for the job, and communicate your previous experience to the employer.
Luckily for you, some job sites have personalized career coaching, or include sections about how to craft a cover letter (like this article on ZipRecruiter). But if you want to create a cover letter that will actually get noticed by employers, you can also follow these simple tips and tricks that’ll help you snag that next job.
1. Make Sure You Have the Right Cover Letter Format
First off, make sure you’re using the correct format for the level and amount of experience you have, and what the industry you’re applying into focuses on most. But in general, your cover letter should be formatted like a business letter, including a header that covers personal and role-specific information like points of contact (your phone number and email) and where you’re located (your full address isn’t really necessary anymore).
Your cover letter shouldn’t be longer than a page long, and while you can get a little creative with resume formatting (especially in a field like graphic design where you want to flex your skills) you should be using a simple font like Helvetica or Arial, with single spacing and margins no larger than an inch.
2. Nail the First Paragraph
In the first paragraph, you want to show that you’ve done your research on the position you’re applying for. Explain why you’re excited about the role, what about the company made you want to apply. This should be short and to the point, as you can elaborate on why you’re the best person for the role in the next paragraph.
You don’t have to load up on keywords in this first paragraph the same way you would for a resume (specific job sites like ZipRecruiter, which use powerful application matching algorithms, will be more focused on flagging your resume). Bottom line: sound like a human who’s genuinely enthusiastic about the position. It might seem obvious, but make sure you get the specific job title and spelling of the company name right, too.
3. Focus On Relevant Experience
Even if you’re not the most qualified for the role, you shouldn’t undersell yourself and highlight your lack of experience in your cover letter. The second paragraph should focus any relevant skills or experience you have, even if they’re only tangentially related.
One way to make sure you stand out is to look at the job description itself — what keywords and attributes highlighted in the requirements do you fulfill? Don’t copy the description verbatim, but make sure to emphasize qualities that they’re looking for in an employee as early in your cover letter as possible. On job boards like ZipRecruiter or Indeed where listings can be send out to thousands of potential applicants and be aggregated across multiple job sites, you want to show what you can bring to the table as a candidate, even if your qualifications don’t 100% match the role.
4. Whip Out Key Accomplishments
So how do you demonstrate why you’re the best candidate for the job? List specific, quantifiable achievements that you’ve made in previous positions that demonstrate you can make a measurable impact in your next position.
Forgo weak action words like “helped” and “assisted”, and if you can, show your results using numbers. For example, “increased customer acquisition by 30%” stands out more than “helped to acquire more customers”. Whether you’ve saved your previous workplace time or money, these hard accomplishments in your cover letter will demonstrate that you’re a hard worker.
5. Let Your Passion Shine Through
The last paragraph is your chance to cinch this opportunity, and should answer questions why you want the role, and wha attracted you to the company in the first place. Trust us when we say that hiring managers will be able to tell if you’re applying just for the sake of applying, and that you’re not fully invested in the position.
Even if you’re perfectly qualified, the company wants to know that you’re going to be invested in the work, so show that you’re passionate about it. Have you been coding ever since you were in high school? Did you read about the company’s impressive engineer team and want to get involved? This is also a great opportunity to show how much you know about industry, if you haven’t already.