Three Tips to Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out

Never underestimate the power of a first impression, especially in the business world.

Take global entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, who makes no apologies for relying on first impressions to guide his business empire. “In the same way that I tend to make up my mind about people within 30 seconds of meeting them, I also make up my mind about whether a business proposal excites me within about 30 seconds of looking at it,” he wrote in Losing My Virginity.

He’s not alone. Most business executives will make an assessment about a document within the first few seconds. It follows that the most effective cover letters make a great first impression, are memorable, and make it clear that you’re the best candidate for the job.

Here’s how to ensure that your cover letter rises to the top of the pile.

1. Explain why you are excited about this job at this organization.

Don’t waste the first two paragraphs of your cover letter on generic statements. Money magazine contributor Alison Green advises writers to tell the hiring manager up front: “What grabbed you about the job description or the company? Why would you prefer this job over others out there? Why do you think you’d be great at it? What in your background demonstrates that you’d excel at the work?”

2. Focus on what you can do for the company, right away.

According to executive recruiter and career counselor Jenny Foss, most cover letters are simply retreads of the applicant’s resume, with “bland, cliché-filled, or completely-redundant-to-the-resume clunkers.” Instead, Foss recommends that you focus on the priority requirements noted in the job description and offer specific examples of how you’ve delivered against those requirements in the past.

3. Numbers talk, so include specifics.

Career coach Megan Broussard notes that, “Employers love to see numbers—it shows them that you speak their language and that you understand what they’re looking for in an employee: Results.” Whether it’s an example of how you achieved big results with a low budget, reduced workplace errors, or signed on new clients, numbers talk. So let your numbers speak for you.

Remember: Even the most effective cover letters will be tossed if the reader spots a typo in the first paragraph. Make sure you proofread your letter carefully, and don’t hesitate to ask a friend or family member to look over your draft.

After all, you won’t get another opportunity to make that first impression!

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About the Author

Susan C. Rink is principal of Rink Strategic Communications, LLC, which specializes in providing workplace advice and strategic employee communications counsel to executives in marketing, public relations, and human resources. Rink launched her consulting practice in 2007 after nearly 20 years in corporate internal communications leadership positions at Marriott International, Nextel Communications, and Sprint Nextel. Rink Strategic Communications clients range from large, multinational companies to small nonprofit organizations, representing a variety of industries including information technology, retail, and the performing arts.