The Art of the Cover Letter

We’ve been talking about some of the ways candidates can use the wrong words to wreck their resumes and cover letters, in Part 1 and Part 2. The bottom line is to proof yourself closely, as our examples were all instances where the spell-checker can’t save you. This time, I want to turn the discussion to how to make a great first impression with an awesome cover letter. I’ve got three points to make – do your homework, bring yourself to life, and be brief.

Go Beyond the Ad

First, you have to do your research and personalize your cover letter. The worst mistake you can make is to settle on a generic, one-size-fits-all blurb that you use for every application. HR screeners are going to spot that cookie-cutter approach right away, and they’re going to get the impression that you are not sufficiently motivated to put in the time to investigate the company or the job position or that you are in a hurry.

Instead, visit the company’s website, search the news for information about the company you want to apply to, and see if they have released any exciting new products, or expanded into new industries. Take a look at their press releases and notice what they are highlighting on their home page. Get a feel for what the buzz might be at their offices, and tap into that. Once you’ve learned about some of their latest news, use that information in a sentence:

“I’ve read several recent news reports about your expansion into drone technology…”

“I saw from your website that your sales have increased across all geographies…”

“I watched a news video on Reuters about your merger with XYZ Corporation…”

What you’re demonstrating is that you have the energy and enthusiasm to learn more about your prospective new employer. You’ve gone beyond the job ad and connected the dots on how the job you are applying for fits into the company’s bigger picture. You know more than the average applicant. You are interested in THEM and that lets them know that you are serious about the position.

Tell a Story

Your cover letter is your best opportunity to tell more about who you are and what makes you tick. If you have an anecdote or short story that drives home a point about your passions for the company or position you are applying for, you can go a long way toward landing an interview. Here’s an example for a job in Nike’s customer service:

I have logged over 20,000 miles in Nike footwear, averaging about 7:30 per mile, without any significant injuries. I’ve worn Nike since my freshman year in track in high school. I believe I could be one of the best brand ambassadors you ever had, and I would love to talk with you more about your current openings.

Notice how this story conveys that this runner is serious about the company’s product. First, they are averaging about 40 miles per week, and second, they are running at a commendable pace. Combine that with the smarts to avoid serious injury, and you have someone telling a story about smarts, perseverance, and drive. Then the passage transitions from running to the issue at hand – the job opening.

You don’t want to come across as a creepy stalker or obsessed fan. Keep it real, and bring yourself to life in a way that the recruiter can see how you feel about the position and the company.

Keep it Short

When you are writing your cover letter, keep it brief and succinctly address the requirements of the job description. The more you ramble on, the more likely you are to lose your reader or make a mistake.

At HireArt, we’ve seen cover letters that go on for pages, and they’re exhausting. Recruiters and hiring managers don’t need to know that much about you at this stage– save something for the interview! If you are the kind of employee that goes on and on, they may wonder if you’re that person that drops into another employee’s cubicle and brings down their productivity. Have confidence in your skills and abilities. Make your point and move on.

For the cover letter, you get an introductory paragraph, a couple of body paragraphs, and the big wrap-up. Think in terms of three or four paragraphs. In the introduction, you may include the words “perfect fit” or “dream Job” if you really mean it, but those are clichés that get over-used. Here’s a good way to start:

I am writing to inquire about the current openings at ABC Company for a sales associate. I am interested in an entry-level position offering the opportunity to combine my passion for technology with my growing career in sales.

This is a good example of a short, concise lead paragraph that sets the stage. As a screener, you would expect to next hear stories that reinforce that passion for technology and cover the relevant sales experience.

In the body of the cover letter, you must call attention to the traits that make you a great fit. Use the stories I talked about previously to drive home your points. Talk about relevant past experiences, your successes, and what makes you tick, all in the context of the specific job opening. Sell yourself by being positive. Tell your stories and bring yourself to life, but be genuine.

My sales experience consists of two different positions: one in direct customer sales at the retail level, and one over the phone completing cold calls. I excelled at both positions, but my telephone work was the most stimulating. In six months, I had updated the training manuals, overhauled the new-hire orientation, and reduced turnover by 25% while boosting revenues by 150%.

What’s nice about this example is that it shows immediate growth and a focus on process. It shows initiative and management potential. It’s a great story.

For the big wind-up, you close the deal. You’re asking to make the cut, to get the interview or land a phone-screening. This is your opportunity to assure them that you really are a perfect fit. You’ve done the heavy lifting already so without sounding desperate, demanding, aloof, condescending, or bored, just wrap it up.

In closing, I hope you agree that I have the skills, the experience, and the passion to join your team. I hope we can schedule an interview soon.

I’ll provide some more examples next time. Meanwhile, do you have any story-telling examples you can share?




  1. Alejandro Marín Toledo said:

    I found this information really interesting and helpful. Thank you for the tips! 🙂

    January 30, 2015
  2. Donise Nock said:

    This information is very helpful I will be using these steps moving forward. Thanks

    January 30, 2015
  3. excellent how do i share on the venues??? lol 🙂 all you guy’s are great ..

    January 30, 2015
  4. Debi L. said:

    These tips really helped me turn the corner on my job search! Before, I was just copying and pasting a generic cover letter for all submissions. By taking the 5 extra minutes to investigate the company and write a more personal introduction, I started receiving many more interview requests!

    February 2, 2015

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