Cover Letter Tips: 4 Showstoppers to Get You Noticed

What kinds of cover letter details make busy employers tune out distractions and give a candidate their full attention? What kinds of words and phrases make the other applicants for the position suddenly fade into the background? When you’re looking for ways to stand out and you can only use the power of your written words, what kinds of simple moves can help you get ahead and gain the advantage? Start with the showstopping cover letter tips listed below.

1. Put the whole story into the first line.

Technically, we mean the first paragraph, since the opening line of your letter will need to include the title of the position you’re pursuing and how you found out about it. But as soon as you clear these small details out of the way, deliver your entire message in a single, elegantly summarized sound bite of a sentence (or three). Offer your hardest hitting and most important selling feature right up front. Don’t waste time by describing yourself as a “qualified expert” or a “hard worker”, since that won’t set you apart from the crowd. Instead, state the credentials that raise your profile and are unlikely to be held by everyone else.

2. Be specific…from beginning to end.

Don’t waste a single sentence in your cover letter by offering vague generalities. For example, don’t describe your degree in accounting if this is a basic minimum requirement for the job and every other candidate will, by necessity, also hold the same degree. Assume that this is given, and move on to specifics, like your record-breaking GPA, or your minor in computer science, or your internship with a prominent accounting firm.

3. Be your best self, whatever that means to you.

What aspects of your personality set you apart and make you special? Are you funny? Are you a great storyteller? Are you a serious, meticulous rule follower? Are you a passionate warrior who stands up for what’s right? Are you an innovative risk taker? Find the brand at the core of your personality and let this trait come through in your words and writing style.

4. Answer obvious questions.

Skim through your resume and identify the fairly obvious questions your work history may elicit. For example, if you spent the first 20 years of your career in healthcare and you’re now making a radical switch to warehouse management, your employers are likely to ask about this. If you’ve been out of the job market altogether for the past five years, this will need to be addressed. If your home address lies in Wisconsin but you’re applying for a position in Florida, expect questions. And since you know these questions are coming your way, find a simple, clear, and brief way to answer them in your cover letter, so your readers can look past the issue and move on.—For more tips and guidelines that can shape the direction of your cover letter and resume, have a look at some of the info on my MyPerfectCoverLetter.