How to Write a Standout Cover Letter in 5 Steps

Here is how to write a cover letter that will get you noticed.

Varsity Tutors, Writing for
3-minute read

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You may find yourself wondering if a cover letter is entirely necessary to include with a job application. After all, your resume will tell the hiring manager all about your experience, right? The truth? Not exactly.

A cover letter is an important way to personalize your application and to make yourself stand out among other applicants. A good cover letter gives the company a window into who you really are and conveys why you’re the right person for the position.

Here is how to write a cover letter that will get you noticed.

Writing a Standout Cover Letter

  1. Conduct research
  2. Illustrate your fit
  3. Be concise but informative
  4. Elaborate on your skill set
  5. Be authentic

Let's explore each in more depth. 

1. Conduct research

It’s important to remember that you shouldn't use the same cover letter when applying to multiple jobs. To accomplish this—and before you begin writing—ensure you understand the company’s mission and vision, what the position you’re applying for entails, and to whom you are writing. Some of this information can be found in the job posting, but go beyond that to verify that you have the full picture. How big is the company? What is it known for? What challenges does it face? Be thorough and double-check your facts; making what may seem like a small oversight to you will be glaring to the person reading your letter.

2. Illustrate why you are the right fit for the company—but don’t overdo it

It’s often advised to start your cover letter with an attention-grabbing statement. This can work, but there is a fine line between earnest and desperate. For example, it’s great to tell a brief story about a personal connection you have to the company or its mission, but it must be interesting, genuine, and brief. If you don’t have a real connection to draw from, focus on your skill set and how it aligns with the company’s goals.

3. Be concise, but informative, in your writing

You should never submit a cover letter longer than one page. It should also fit comfortably on one page, not crammed in with reduced margins. Make it easy to read by avoiding long sentences and breaking up long paragraphs. Your letter could be a fascinating work of prose, but if it looks dense and difficult to read, it may hurt your chances of getting it noticed.

Also avoid including excessive details about your education or work experience; your resume will offer all of these details, and you can reference that in your letter. Why should they read your letter if they can get the same information from your resume? Make better use of the short space you have in your letter by letting your personality and passion come through.

4. Elaborate on your skill set in your cover letter

Read the job listing carefully to figure out what’s most important to the employer regarding this position. Then, highlight the experience you’ve had that shows your skills in that area. Focus on keywords and phrases in the listing that match your background. For example, do they need someone with a “proven history of success in building a social media presence”? If so, highlight how you doubled your former employer’s Twitter following by increasing customer engagement. Use specifics and numbers to tell your story if you can do so without going into too much detail. Give them a teaser, and then save the rest of the story for the interview.

5. Don’t include inauthentic language   

If you’re insincere in your praise of the company, it will come across clearly to the hiring manager. Your reader will see past language that doesn’t have real passion behind it, and your letter may be passed over more easily. Describe why you’re interested in working for the company, but ensure your language is genuine and sincere.

If job postings say a cover letter is optional, it’s generally a good idea to include one anyway. Chances are, other applicants will submit one, and having a cover letter to accompany your resume will help your potential employer better envision you in the position.  

Lora Wegman is a contributing writer for Varsity Tutors, a live learning platform that connects students with personalized instruction to accelerate academic achievement.

Image of cover letter text © Shutterstock

About the Author

Varsity Tutors, Writing for Grammar Girl

Varsity Tutors is committed to connecting students with top tutors capable of providing an incredible learning experience. Our experienced educational consultants assess every student's unique needs and learning style, and help students identify a tutor that is the best fit. This elite group of tutors brings students a wealth of experience in their individual fields of academic expertise.

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