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Attention Grabbing Cover Letters

Here’s how.

Don’t annoy the reader

Just as there are plenty of reasons your resume gets chucked, cover letters are typically equally trash-able. As David Silverman once noted for HBR, bad cover letters come in three varieties:

  • Recap: A resume, now with paragraphs!
  • Formula: A form letter or template you send to everybody.
  • Confessional: An attempt to explain why your resume is so weird.

The first two are toxic and lazy; the third is understandable. Especially if, for instance, you spent three years abroad instead of scrambling for pennies during a recession, as this writer did. (Full disclosure: I tell potential employers that my travels helped me to see multiple perspectives or something like that; they seem to like it. Fingers crossed.)

Know when to send a cover letter

Silverman says that you should only use a cover letter if you know the name of the person doing the hiring–it’s not Sir or Madame–or if you know the job requirements well. He says they’re also good if you’ve been personally referred. Since companies are mostly hiring through internal referrals, that’s probably the case–though it’s not good for the economy or innovation.

Don’t be boring

How do you ensure your reader’s eyes don’t glaze over? Like Cara Aley at Brazen Careerist writes, you can use the cover letter to show your employer-crush why your experience is just right for the job description. Do not, do not, do not let it look like a template. Would you hire someone who sent you a template? No. So don’t send one.

Also, Aley advises to be confident in your writing. This doesn’t mean that you spill over with humblebrags; it does mean that you sign off with a “I look forward to hearing from you” rather than “I hope to hear from you.” You’re qualified, so act like it.

Fitting in is part of being qualified. You need to show you’re party to their cohort–even if it means taking a chainsaw to an owl. When companies say “finding cultural alignment,” they’re really talking about whether or not you have the same personality type. Consciously or not, firms replicate themselves. Getting angry at this fact is like getting angry at the weather.

And more than anything else, write something they would want to read. Don’t overwrite. And study your Elements of Style.

Think you know what makes for a good cover letter? Is there one you’ll always remember receiving? Tell us about it in the comments.

Your Guide to Writing an Eye-Catching Cover Letter

[Image: Flickr user Thomas Leth-Olsen]

  • Hiring managers receive hundreds of applications for each open job — and spend only a few seconds reading each cover letter.
  • Grab their attention by incorporating personal-branding elements.
  • You can use a slogan, testimonials, or a mission statement.

Hiring managers and recruiters can receive hundreds—or even thousands—of applications for each open job. Typically, they can spend only a few seconds scanning a candidate's cover letter before moving on to somebody else's. So if you're looking for a job, your cover letter has to capture a reader's attention right away.

According to career coach Evelyn Salvador, author of "Step-by-Step Cover Letters," one way to get an employer to really notice your cover letter is to infuse it with personal-branding elements, such as a slogan, testimonials or a mission statement. "Each of these elements is optional, but it might just be the thing that makes your cover letter stand out from those of other candidates," she says.

Salvador has specific tips for using one (or all) of these elements:

A slogan

This brief sentence or phrase can be placed under your name at the top of your letter, in the far-left margin or in italics at the bottom of your cover letter. A slogan should succinctly encapsulate the value you bring to an employer—if you need help crafting a slogan, look to language in the job posting or on the employer's website for inspiration.

Salvador's examples include:


Stating what others have said about your performance adds credibility to the information you provide in a cover letter. Testimonials can include excerpts from letters of recommendation, customer thank-you letters, vendor satisfaction letters, performance reviews, internship summaries, staff memos and other commendations.

A mission statement

This element should be succinct and clearly state what your mission is, specific to your career goal—it could describe what you plan to do or have done, what you believe in or why your profession is important to you—or another statement that demonstrates the value you'll bring to the employer.

Salvador's examples for a teacher and sales manager include:

  • "Each step a child takes in his life has an effect on his future. I would like to help students take positive steps by creating an educational experience conducive to learning."
  • "If the customer is happy and you are making a sale, it's a win/win. I believe in making customers happy."