10-Minute Cover Letter Makeover

When you’re looking for a job, you know that to some extent, your success is a game of numbers. With an average of 250 applicants applying for each open job, it’s really tough to stand out. You are literally one of hundreds depending on the specific company and role you’re interested in.

If you want to make an impression, you’re going to need a powerful cover letter.

Luckily, you don’t have to spend a lot of time to make a big difference.

Here are 5 things you can do in 10 minutes to improve your cover letter.


1. Cut it Down

Can you skim your cover letter in 5 seconds and get the gist of the message you’re trying to convey?

Most hiring managers and recruiters have to sift through thousands of applicants and many cover letters and resumes all start to blend into each other. If your resume only gets a 6 second glance, you can imagine that your cover letter will only receive a similar amount of attention.

Try this experiment. After you’ve cut down your cover letter, take a break from it and put it on your desk. When you return, glance at it and see what jumps out at you.

If it’s so dense that nothing in particular stands out, then it’s either too long, not very interesting or both. Your goal is to make sure something important stands out in 5-6 seconds.

Another way of testing this is to skim your cover letter on your computer or phone. What can you see in two scrolls down the screen? What content is “above the fold?” That will give you a sense of the optics of your cover letter where it will most likely be reviewed.


2. Make It About Them

If you don’t know enough about a job or an employer to write a personalized cover letter, then you need to do some research first.

If you’re looking for an engineering or marketing role, is there something about company that excites you that makes you want to work there rather than the hundreds of other companies out there?

Another trick to remember is ask yourself whether you’ve used the word “you”. For example, “I’m sure you’re looking for a XXX for your marketing role because your culture seems very collaborative. That’s why I’m interested in your XXX position.”

Everyone likes to feel like they are wanted, and this is true in the job context as well.


3. Explain Why Youre Interested

One of the great challenges (and opportunities) of a cover letter is that you get to say why you are interested in a job.

A resume doesn’t give you a chance to do that because it’s supposed to be a biographical bullet-point summary of your work and education experience.

A cover letter, on the other hand, is an open slate in terms of allowing you to communicate your enthusiasm. Don’t waste that opportunity by rehashing your resume content.

If you believe in the company’s mission, say so! If you think the role is your dream job, don’t be shy in sharing that. Genuine enthusiasm is rarer than you may think and everyone likes to see an excited applicant.

That said, don’t make things up. If you do get past the resume and cover letter stage, it will be pretty obvious you were exaggerating your interest and that may be a turnoff to your interviewer.


4. Double Check Its Up to Date

Resumes aren’t the only thing that need a periodic refresh.

If you’ve been using the same cover letter template since your college internship, it’s time to think about whether that template still matches the type of work you’re seeking and reflects your professional experience.

It’s not always what you say but how you say it.

For example, “I’d like to gain experience in the XXX field” is something in a typical college-level cover letter. In contrast, “My experience in XXX” makes me a great candidate” shows that you’ve matured.

There are other ways resumes get out of date that may be less obvious. For example, certain skills or not as relevant or important as they used to be due to changes in industry or technology. Chances are that you wouldn’t highlight your incredible faxing abilities even if you are looking for an executive administrative role given that so much more happens over email these days.


5. Personalize As Much As Possible

It’s very easy to spot a generic cover letter. There’s nothing wrong with cutting and pasting certain parts of a cover letter but try to add a sentence or two of personalization at the beginning can make something feel much more authentic (even if the person reading is skimming).

In short, a cover letter is an opportunity. A good cover letter is an important first impression and increases the odds your resume attachment will actually get opened!


About the Author

Georgene Huang is a founder of Fairygodboss, an employee review site for women, by women. With free job listings, and thousands of anonymous reviews by women of how their employers fare in terms of gender equality, maternity leave benefits, equal pay and more, Fairygodboss is trying to improve the workplace for women through transparency.


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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

2 Comments on 5 Ways to Give Your Cover Letter A 10-Minute Makeover

  1. Mike
    October 24, 2016 at 3:40 pm (5 years ago)

    What a fantastic resouce! Looking for work, after decades in the workforce, is an enormius challenge. So many peole and too few opportunities. Reading your posts helped to renew my resolve. Thanke yiu for thoughtful writing!

    If I might make a request, could you point me to anything you’ve writen or read focused on aging professionals still eager to work?


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