10 Steps To Write The Ideal Cover Letter To Land Your Dream Job

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woman writing a cover letter

Do you panic when it comes to figuring out how to write a cover letter? A good cover letter can make or break your chances with a great company, so it's a big part of your job application process.

When it comes to applying for your dream job, there are two approaches you can take: Do what everyone else does, or stand out. Only one is going to land you your dream job.

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An amazing cover letter can seal the deal for an interview.

A knockout resume is an essential element of your application, but the addition of a captivating cover letter can seal the deal and get you in the door for an interview.

Some recruiters might tell you that they never read cover letters, and most cover letters are canned, boring regurgitations of the resume, so it’s not surprising.

But as a former human resources leader, I can tell you that I always read them.

Why do cover letters matter?

A well-written cover letter shares something that even the most perfect resume cannot: It tells a story about why you should get hired.

Here's what else a great cover letter does:

  • Demonstrates your writing skills.
  • Shows that you’ve understood the job requirements.
  • Humanizes your application and reveals your personality.
  • Proves how eager you are to get the job.
  • Makes the reader want to meet you in person.

Even though it makes sense to put in the effort to stand out in the selection process, many people find writing a cover letter daunting. But putting it all together doesn't have to be complicated or anxiety-provoking.

Here are 10 steps on how to write the ideal cover letter so you can land your dream job.

1. Appropriately address your letter.

Whenever possible, address the letter to the right person. This shows your problem-solving abilities and adds a personal touch.

You can use LinkedIn as a tool, check out business directories, Google the company and titles, or simply call reception to inquire. If you're not certain after researching it, you can resort to "Dear Human Resources" or "Dear Hiring Manager," depending on the situation.

2. Establish the right tone.

Most cover letters are overly formal. You can gauge a lot about the company’s culture from its website and take clues from the job posting about what's appropriate.

Some organizations are very traditional; others are more hip and allow more leeway to be creative in your letter.

In general, it's an excellent strategy to connect to the reader by using a polite and professional, yet more conversational tone. Directly use language from the job posting. Go for warm and earnest, and you can't go wrong!

3. Pique the reader's interest in your opening paragraph.

Your first section should indicate which position you're applying for and, most importantly, why you are enthusiastic about applying for it.

You can share your beliefs, your passion for their cause, your experience with their product or service, or anything that indicates your connection to the business. Why? Because employees who share the company vision are more likely to be engaged, high performers.

"I am thrilled to apply for the Digital Marketing Manager position that you advertised on Indeed. I've been following your firm over the past few years, and I've admired how it’s changed the online space by […] I can't help but get excited about the opportunity to contribute my expertise to that transformation."

Or try this more creative approach:

"When I was growing up, I saw first-hand the effects of addiction and joblessness. That's why, when I saw the job posting for a Community Outreach Worker, I knew it was an incredible opportunity to enhance the lives of the less fortunate in our community."

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4. Present relevant experience and skills.

After digesting the job description and noting what’s very important for success in the job, highlight your strengths.

Make sure you're able to demonstrate how amazing you are and how your skills and abilities relate to the role. Don't make this a laundry list; describe the qualities you possess that others likely don’t.

"You can read about my 10 years of experience creating marketing programs for the wine and spirits industry. Additionally, what I bring is expertise in the mature European market and an appreciation for wine as a trained sommelier. Before I formally started my marketing career, I was part-owner in a fine-dining restaurant, and I learned what consumers want and how they go about making purchasing decisions.

Add in my strong communication and project management skills, and I am confident I can deliver increased revenue for ABC Wines."

5. Go beyond the resume.

The top portion of your resume should summarize your experience and highlight your key competencies. The body of the cover letter is a chance to tell the reader something new and remarkable.

"What I'm most proud of is my ability to cut through the noise and see what action is going to get results. In my last fundraising campaign, I created an innovative strategy that resulted in a 300 percent increase in donations."

6. Clarify a potential issue.

Sometimes the cover letter is an opportunity to address questions that the resume cannot, such as a gap in employment, willingness to relocate, change in career, or a completely different level of work.

As a long-time recruiter, I was often left wondering about these things without an explanation in the letter. Don't let questions put your application to the bottom of the pile!

State the basic facts without drawing attention to your weaknesses. Instead, cleverly highlight your transferrable or new skills.

7. Demonstrate what you know about the industry or company.

Show that you've done your homework.

Review the company website and press releases, and say how you'd like to contribute to solve a problem or share in its growth. You can do this in either the opening or closing statement.

8. Close by painting a picture of how you'd contribute.

Your job throughout the letter is to demonstrate your focus on the organization, and how your experience and skills line up with its needs. You have a further opportunity at the end of the letter to sum up that contribution.

"I look forward to speaking with you to discuss how I can put my [insert specific] skills and experience to work to deliver exceptional customer service to ABC’s clients."

9. Create a call to action.

The end of the letter should convey your appreciation, and invite action.

"Thank you for considering me for this unique opportunity to [insert job purpose]. I am available at [insert phone number] should you need further information."

Close your letter with "Sincerely," and formally note enclosures like a resume or anything specifically requested in the posting.

10. Proofread your letter.

Before you sign the letter, create a PDF version, and send it off, ensure that you've taken the time to review it for enhanced readability and impact.

Be sure to avoid these common cover-letter errors:

  • Spelling and grammar mistakes.
  • Word repetition; be sure to use a thesaurus.
  • Passive verb tenses.
  • Too many "I" statements; the cover letter is all about them.
  • Clichés, slang, acronyms, or overly-flowery statements; stick to everyday language.
  • Too little white space or unequal spacing between paragraphs.

It's true: Writing a solid resume cover letter takes effort and originality. But if you follow these steps, you'll demonstrate your sincere interest in the job and prove that you'll do what it takes to get it. The hiring team will be impressed, and you'll be that much closer to getting the job you want.

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Lisa Petsinis is a certified career and life coach and former human resources leader who works with resourceful individuals to uncover and communicate their brilliance, so they can land a job they'll love. Contact Lisa to learn more about her services and her unique insider's view and make meaningful progress in your career starting today.