How to write an effective cover letter

Updated: Mar 22, 2021




Most job applications require a resume and a cover letter, which can seem intimidating. Writing a cover letter is nothing to be scared by; in fact, it's your opportunity to give interviewers a better glimpse of who you are, your strengths and what makes you the best person for the position. There's no one formula for writing a cover letter but there are definitely tips and tools you can use to make your writing better and most importantly, more compelling. Let's talk about what those things are.


1. USE ACTIVE VOICE.

You may vaguely recall active and passive voice from english or writing classes. Don't fret if you don't. ​ Passive voice is not inherently bad. It's not grammatically wrong and there are definitely uses for it, however it's generally best to avoid using it in any kind of public relations, marketing or business writing. This is because it buries the lead. Basically, you make the object of an action into the subject of a sentence. For example, in passive voice you'd say "The road was crossed by the chicken." Active voice however, does the opposite: The subject of a sentence acts upon a verb. Following the example above, that same sentence rewritten in active voice would say "The chicken crossed the road." Both sentences are technically correct, however the sentence written in active voice is clearer and more concise, which is exactly what you should be aiming for when writing a cover letter.


2. KEEP IT TO ONE PAGE.

One perk of using active voice is that it usually helps cut words and make sentences shorter and more to the point. This is especially helpful when you're trying to keep your cover letter to one page, including a header and footer if you've added a design element to incorporate your contact information. It may seem difficult to get everything you want to say into just one page, but it's important for a one main reason: Recruiters don't have time to read a novel. They have many applications to read and will likely skim, so your cover letter needs to be clear, outlined well to make sure they get the gist and short so they make it all the way through. Find the best things to include, organize it well and say what you need to say with as little words as possible.


3. FANCY DOES NOT MEAN BETTER.

You may be tempted to whip out your big words or a thesaurus to find longer, more sophisticated words while writing your cover letter. It's not a complete no-no to find a synonym for words, but only when it makes your sentence more clear. Don't use big words, especially if you're not 100% sure of the connotation and context of when/how that word is used, just for the sake of sounding more academic, learned or smarter. Clarity is key, not eruditeness. See... most people don't know that eruditeness means profound scholarly knowledge off the top of their heads, so it made that sentence less effective and I lost some of my readers. Don't make this mistake when it's a potential job opportunity at stake.


4. TELL YOUR STORY.

Contrary to many poor examples and popular thought, your cover letter should not just be a, verbose iteration of your resume. You can certainly reference past work experiences, but be sure to elaborate on something more specific and strategic. Hone in on your longterm goals, specific interests, compelling hobbies or notable accomplishments. Write about literally anything as long as you feel it gives interviewers a better idea of who you are as a person and why you're a good fit for the position. It should go without saying, but be sure to include tidbits that increase your chances of getting hired. While your affinity for manicured cuticles, playing card collection or video game obsession might be unique to you, they might not be the details that make you a more desirable employee. This could be an opportunity to explain yourself. For example, if you're an art major applying for a marketing position, the correlation between your coursework and job functions may seem misaligned, but a cover letter provides a perfect opportunity to highlight your creative mind and professional artistic training that can help you create innovative, out-of-the-box collateral and campaigns.

5. PROOFREAD.

As always, your cover letter should be proofread before you submit it with your application. Nothing screams "not thorough" like a proofreading mistake. If possible, have a friend or family member read it to make sure it makes sense and catch minor mistakes. In general, AP style is the way to go. There are a few professions that use other styles like AMA or Chicago, but virtually all marketing, advertising and public relations professionals abide by AP style. Use this to guide your edits and get familiar with it if you're not already.


If you've made it this far down and still feel like you you could use some help, you're in luck! I'd love to help you write a great cover letter to help you reach you career goals. Let's chat!