Get Off the Pile: Cover Letters, 2017 Edition

Here at Afterword, we want to provide helpful advice to guide you through the real world of job searches, interviews, personal finance and much more. This series “Get Off the Pile” is where we focus on these topics.

Right now, a lot of you are job searching, or preparing for that process as the summer winds down, so, this week we ask “how can you get off the pile of endless applications with a stellar cover letter”?

Andrew Flewelling, our HR expert at the UVM Foundation has some helpful tips for how to write great cover letters. Andrew has a graduate degree from UVM and is the Senior Director of Human Resources here at the UVM Foundation. Today he’s going to discuss writing expert cover letters.

The Basics

When it comes to cover letters, the most common mistake I see is that the applicant merely restates what their resume says. I CAN read, so there is no need to make a sentence out of a bullet that is listed on the next page.

Instead, a good cover letter is one that does my work for me. It clearly articulates why the position is of interest; and illuminates the skills and abilities that make the applicant special.

It’s great to talk about a few (2-3 max) examples of success. Bonus points if the applicant can quantify the success (% increase, overall sales, maximized efficiency by x measure, etc…).

What Makes a Cover Letter Stand Out?

The letters that really stand out are the ones in which the applicant takes their experiences, skills, and successes, and synthesizes them for me, highlighting their direct and/or transferable nature for the position they seek. The best letters demonstrate that the writer knows enough about the position to be able to overlay their own skills on what we are looking for.

Tips for Writing a Stand-out Cover Letter

1. Keep it to one page. And be aware of the formatting — dense, long paragraphs in eight point type are not good practice.

2. State the important. In the opening paragraph, mention the position applied for and where the listing was posted. In the rest of the letter, discuss what the position requires (skills, characteristics, temperament, values, etc.) and demonstrate/prove that you possess those requirements.

3. Mix it up. Use a good mixture of short declarative statements and longer, multi clause sentences to make sure the letter flows.

4. Be Yourself. Don’t be afraid to inject a bit of personal passion. Depending on the position, it may be appropriate to articulate your understanding of the importance of the position to the company, industry, society overall. You should also be able to articulate why the position is important to you.

5. Read it out loud. Hearing yourself will help you catch mistakes, missed references or awkward phrasing. Have a friend do this with you too, it always helps to double check.

6. Proofread to perfection. Incorrect grammar, spelling, and punctuation are non-negotiable deal breakers.

7 thoughts on “Get Off the Pile: Cover Letters, 2017 Edition

  1. I found this post to be spot-on. There’s no shortage of services willing to take your money to help you build a great resumes. But cover letters? That’s a different story. I found this advice at once practical and sophisticated, the latter because you nail the nuances that might just help elevate the cover letter so it’s not just restating what’s on your resume. This is a great post and a must-read for job seekers.

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