Your cover letter is the first step to making a great first impression on hiring managers. Get this step right, and you could be heading towards an interview for your dream job. Here are eight tips to writing a great cover letter that separates you from the competition.

Keep It Brief

For an attractive position, a hiring manager will face dozens or hundreds of applications from hopeful job hunters. They won’t have time to read long, in-depth cover letters, so aim to keep yours concise. Make sure you don’t leave any important details out, but make sure to stick to relevant information, and try to make it clear why you’re a great fit for the job. The more succinctly you can answer the question Why you?, the more positive the impression you’ll make on the hiring manager.

Don’t Be Too Dry

It’s essential to not just restate your resume details. Use your cover letter to elaborate, choosing a few examples to explain in-depth, to show what you can bring to the organization to which you’re applying. Try and show some of your character, while at the same time remembering to stay concise and relevant.

Avoid the Cookie Cutter

There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all cover letter, and you should tailor each one to the specific role for which you’re applying. Let your resume fill out your entire professional history, but use your letter to focus on your suitability for this particular position. Ideally, include information that shows you’ve done some research on the organization, and make sure you cover all points and key phrases used in the job advertisement.

Open and End Well

Your first and last sentences can hook a hiring manager who’s sorting through a large number of cover letters. Make sure your opening is reasonably catchy and compelling, but get straight to the point rather than trying to impress with your writing skills. Also, consider including a mild “call to action” as the final line, mentioning for example that you’d be happy to supply any further details by telephone conversation or a formal interview.

Address a Real Person

If possible, address your cover letter to a real person in the organization, such as the head of human resources. That shows you’ve taken the time to find this detail out, and it’s especially crucial for on-spec resume submissions. However, if you’re responding to an advertisement, be sure to follow the application instructions to the letter. Some hiring managers use unusual names or addresses as a first test to weed out applicants who can’t follow directions.

Catch Attention

It can help to include something a little unusual or unexpected after the main body of your cover letter. Perhaps add a complimentary quote from a previous employer toward the bottom of the page or supply links to press stories that feature you or your work. Don’t go overboard, but anything that can make your achievements stand out a little without being gimmicky can be a commanding advantage.

Professional Presentation

There’s no excuse not to use spell checking software on your letter, and always ensure your grammar is beyond reproach. Lay your message out well, using short paragraphs that are easy to scan rather than dense blocks of text. If you’re sending a printed application, make sure to use high-quality paper and a decent printer. If you’re supplying a digital version, it’s best to use the standard PDF format rather than making assumptions about which word processing software the organization uses.

Take Your Time

Lastly, unless you’re under real pressure with the position’s closing date, take as much time as you can over your cover letter. Taking a few extra days to go over your letter will give you the best chance of getting it right. A cover letter is your foot in the door for your next dream job, so use it to provide the busy hiring manager every encouragement to put you forward for an interview.

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