Five Ways to Improve Your Cover Letter
Margaret Gerhardt, Former Recruiter
Putting together a strong job application isn’t easy. To help you make a strong first impression, we share five tips to improve your cover letter.
You’ve found a job that’s piqued your interest, and now it’s time to submit your application. Advice on cover letters is varied and often conflicting. Some people feel that cover letters are outdated (why is it still called a cover letter?), and you might be advised not to include one at all because no one will read it.
At Viget, we do read your letters as part of our thorough approach to evaluating candidates. This is your chance to make a strong first impression and for us to start to get to know you. As consultants, we communicate through writing daily, both internally and with clients, and your cover letter is your first opportunity to show us that you can write clearly and succinctly. Our application instructions ask you to, in 500 words or fewer, discuss “why you want to work at Viget, and how your previous experience relates to the position described.” With those instructions in mind, here are five of our top tips to improve your cover letter.
1. Start off strong.
The beginning of your cover letter sets the tone for the rest of your message. It’s a great opportunity to show both enthusiasm and attention to detail. Here are a few suggestions to help you make a strong start:
- Feel free to address your message directly to us. You can say something like, “Hi Viget Team,” or address us by name. (In the “How to Apply” section of our job descriptions, we’ve tried to make it as easy as possible for you to get to know us a bit better before applying.)
- If you’re applying elsewhere, do a little research so you can avoid opening with “Dear Hiring Manager,” or “To Whom It May Concern” if possible. This helps to personalize your message and shows that you’ve taken the time to learn a little bit about your reader(s). If the job description lists a contact person, address your letter to that person.
- Be sure to write in the first person throughout your message, using “I,” “me,” and “my,” to tell us about yourself, rather than the third person.
- Think about your first sentence (and/or first paragraph) and how it will set up the rest of your letter. Introduce yourself and establish the purpose of your message before jumping right into your skills, experience, and goals.
- A few things to avoid: Incomplete sentences, misspelled words, other companies’ names, the wrong job title. (See #5 for more on proofreading.)
2. Adapt your cover letter for each job description and company.
We’re interested to know how you relate your previous experience to the role for which you’ve applied, and what specifically interests you about Viget. If you’ve written cover letters for other applications, you don’t necessarily have to start from scratch. When you have something that works well and you feel good about, here are some ideas to help you adapt your template:
- Spend some time making connections between your experience, skills, and goals and the specific job for which you’re applying. You don’t need to address each bullet point in the job description, but making several connections shows us you understand what the job entails.
- If you learned about a role from a job board, visit the company’s website to learn more. It’s easy to use the “click to apply” button, but doing a little bit of research can make you a stronger applicant. You’ll likely learn more about the company’s work, clients, and culture than you could from one job ad, and you’ll have more to say about what interests you about a particular company and work environment (which should be helpful to you, too!).
3. Be yourself.
It’s impressive when an applicant’s personality and enthusiasm shine through in a cover letter. Cover letters can feel formal, but it’s fine for your message to read like a note or an email you would send to a peer. Aim for a conversational, yet professional tone. Here are some suggestions to help strike the right balance:
- Tell us what about the role and/or Viget is particularly interesting or exciting to you and why.
- As long as you’ve covered the basics in relation to your experience and skills, consider sharing a little bit about your hobbies and interests outside of work as well.
- If you enjoy telling jokes and often use humor in your writing, it’s great to share a little of your sense of humor in your cover letter. If you don’t, your cover letter probably isn’t the best place to experiment with it. When in doubt, err on the side of being professional.
4. Strike the right balance with length.
In our application instructions, we ask you to introduce yourself in 500 words or fewer, which is no more than about one page, single spaced. We consider that an absolute maximum recommended length; shorter is often best. Here are some suggestions to help you make the most of this space:
- We find that the most effective messages elaborate on experiences and accomplishments listed in the resume without simply repeating them. What’s listed in your resume that you’re particularly proud of and wish you could say a little more about? Your cover letter is a great place to expand a bit more.
- If you’ve written a sentence or two about your goals, motivations, or work philosophy, consider giving some examples of these in action. How have you demonstrated their importance in your work? These examples give some more weight to your statements and help us to get to know you and your work a little better.
- It may be tempting to share as much as you can about your skills, previous jobs, and projects, especially when you have limited space on your resume. Instead, try to focus on what’s most relevant to the specific job and company in order for your letter to make the most impact.
- If your letter does all of the above, shows some personality, but isn’t very long, that’s fine. Writing succinctly is an asset.
5. Proofread carefully before submitting.
Before getting to this stage, we recommend spending some time revising and editing. When you think your application is ready to submit, stop and proofread your cover letter (and your resume). Below are some additional thoughts and suggestions about proofreading.
- A typo or two in a cover letter or on a resume won’t disqualify you. We look at each application holistically and make decisions based on relevant skills and experience as well as current team needs. However, a pattern of typos can be concerning if it indicates an overall lack of attention to detail in your work.
- Try reading your letter aloud as you proofread.
- Ask a friend or family member who is attentive to detail to review your letter. It can be tough to catch your own errors, and another perspective is often very helpful.
We want to be transparent about our expectations to give everyone a fair shot at being successful. We know that the job search and application process can be stressful, and we hope that these suggestions are helpful to you and give you a better idea of how we evaluate applications. It can take some time to craft a strong cover letter, but the extra effort will let us see you at your best. Whether you’re actively searching for a new job, considering applying for our internship or apprenticeship program, or still looking for that job that sparks your interest, once you have your cover letter ready, we hope you’ll submit an application. Our Careers page is up to date!