Writing the perfect cover letter for a job you’re applying to, will help you to stand out from other candidates and prove your excellent fit for the job.
The perfect cover letter is well written, but it doesn’t:
Contain a single typo or go longer than a single page (unless you have a good reason to).
Use too many “5-dollar-words”or any clunky, over-the-top, or unnecessary language.
Use generic jargon that doesn’t mean anything.
Portray you in a way that is vague, inconsistent, bland or off-putting.
Get off topic from the information asked for by the job description and job advertisement.
These are some of the most common mistakes that people make on their cover letter. Now that you know what not to do, let’s talk about what makes the perfect cover letter.
What Makes the Perfect Cover Letter?
The perfect cover letter is one that does its job perfectly: introducing you and your expertise to a hiring decision maker and proving that you are worth contacting about their open job.
You should not overthink what makes a perfect cover letter because, if it’s accomplishing what it’s supposed to (making you stand out from other applicants in a positive way), then it’s perfect for the job you’re applying to.
The perfect cover letter:
The perfect cover letter is based on the job ad you’re responding to.
While you can have some paragraphs that carry over from cover letter to cover letter, much of the content of any cover letter should be based on the job requirements set forth in the job description.
Hiring managers will be looking for evidence that you are a great choice for the job they need to fill, so make sure that your cover letter is responding to the requirements of the job description with examples of when you’ve done similar work and information that proves your worthiness.
The perfect cover letter engages the reader.
Your cover letter needs to engage the reader and make you stand out as an exceptional individual among dozens of carefully written cover letters.
There will also be dozens of tedious and/or template cover letters that the hiring manager will be reading along with yours, so your cover letter needs to grab their attention and avoid the “NO” pile with a strong introduction and a “reader friendly” structure throughout.
When you’ve finished your cover letter, it’s essential that you re-read it with a critical eye and make changes based on your re-appraisal of your first draft.
When evaluating your cover letter, ask yourself questions like:
“Do I sound like the person that the job ad is asking for?”
“Am I getting the urge to skim this paragraph?”
“Am I overly attached to an irrelevant theme or metaphor that could confuse the reader?”
“Is this cover letter memorable or do I sound like a template?”
“Is this cover letter ‘reader friendly,’ with short paragraphs, concise sentences and organized information throughout?
“What kind of person does this cover letter make me sound like? Is this true to life?”
The perfect cover letter proves that you are right for the job.
The perfect cover letter makes the person reading it think something like: “This sounds like the person I was describing in my job ad.”
When devising your plan to prove that you’re perfect for the job, always use the job description and other information in the job ad to guide you. Then, prove that you are right for the job by detailing projects you’ve completed and positions you’ve held, that involved the work required by the job you’re applying to.
The Structure of the Perfect Cover Letter
There are many ways to write a perfectly successful cover letter and, depending on the job you’re applying to, it can be accompanied by a video or a link to the “about me” page of your website.
The basic structure of your perfectly successful cover letter is simple: memorable intro, body of evidence that demonstrates your experience and a short conclusion.
Introduce Yourself in a Memorable Way and Write Like Yourself
When writing your introduction, your aim is to balance standing out from the crowd and fitting the bill for the qualities, background and experience level that the job ad is asking for.
Here’s some good examples from Themuse that strike this balance very well:
“My last boss once told me that my phone manner could probably diffuse an international hostage situation. I’ve always had a knack for communicating with people—the easygoing and the difficult alike—and I’d love to bring that skill to the office manager position at Shutterstock.”
“Over the last 10 years, I’ve built my career on one simple principle: Work smarter. I’m the person who looks for inefficient procedures, finds ways to streamline them, and consistently strives to boost the productivity of everyone around me. It’s what’s earned me three promotions in the supply chain department at my current company, and it’s what I know I can do as the new operations analyst for SevOne.”
Always write like yourself, but also edit yourself. You want the job and, though putting some personal information in your cover letter helps to differentiate you, too much personal information will take away from the strength of your cover letter.
Use the Job Ad / Job Description as your Guide for Demonstrating Your Experience
When deciding what professional and experience you want to talk about in your cover letter, always use the job ad and job description to prioritize what is included.
An effective way to ensure that you hit on everything the job description is asking for, is to take every descriptor and requirement they mention in the job ad and make them into bullet points. This way, when deciding on the wording of a sentence or the content of a paragraph, you can look to your list and see how many boxes you’re able to check.
To demonstrate that you have the right experience for the job, try using stories from your career that showcase the use of multiple skills that the job ad is looking for. Stories are also more memorable than a list of skills and competencies that you’ve put into paragraph form.
Finish with a Short Conclusion
The conclusion of a perfect cover letter is short, sweet and to the point.
Short: Takes up as little space as possible, to give you more room for essential information.
Sweet: Speaking to your desire to work for the company doesn’t hurt, and a sentence describing your dedication to causes shared by the company or the respect you have for them can strengthen your conclusion.
To the Point: Use your conclusion to re-iterate what your reader is going to get from hiring you. Simply stating that you would love to do the job is not enough, and your conclusion needs to drive the point home the ways that you will satisfy and what is asked in the job description.
Ronny Cheng is one of the Co-Founder’s of Digital Astronauts and has helped drive lead generation in the software industry for organizations of all sizes — from start-ups to Fortune 500’s. He helped build one of the first online software review websites, specializing in CRM, ERP, and HR software. He’s a nationally published author with extensive experience working with the HR/Recruiting industries largest brands. In his spare time, you can catch him on Instagram doing his best food blogger impersonation.