• Advice

The art of the cover letter

Everyone knows a resume is important — it’s supposed to be the perfect snapshot of your work history, positioning you as an ideal candidate for that next gig.

But what about a cover letter?

It can be tempting to just write up a generic cover letter for all the jobs you’re applying for, especially if they’re for similar positions. Change a few details here, change a few company names there, and voila — perfect, right?

Not so fast!

There’s an art to writing a cover letter. Here’s how to write one that works.

Be direct

No more dithering your way into an introduction! “I saw your post on LinkedIn, blah blah blah…” Of course you saw the job posting somewhere. Who cares? Get right to the point by letting HR know who you are, what you’re good at, and why you’re a great fit.

If you:

• Have a contact at the organization

• Have some kind of special referral

• Or can otherwise namedrop,

Mention it right away! Your cover letter is a selling point, but it’s also what gets you in the door — so cut to the chase when it comes to who you know. Most companies, especially smaller ones, tend to hire from internal references. If you haven’t already, make the most of your connections — and don’t hesitate to expand your network to find the perfect gig.

Be specific

You might just want a job, any job, but hiring managers are looking to find a perfect fit for their organization — and they’re very invested in that perfect fit. Which means that a less-than-great, generic cover letter will quickly get passed over.

When you’re writing a cover letter, don’t just copy paste at your convenience. Sure, you can keep the skeleton structure of your letters the same, but take the time to do a little research and write a letter specifically geared toward the place you’re applying. Familiarize yourself with the company’s language and brand — for example, if you’re interested in working at a hip young startup, don’t write them a stodgy, boring letter. And do they have particular initiatives that you’re interested in, or a recent campaign you admired? Mention it in your cover letter!

However, don’t get carried away lauding the company you’d like to work at without any context for what you’d bring to the table. If you go on and on about how great it is and how much you’d like to work there, that doesn’t tell HR much about you — except that you want a new job.

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Sell yourself

Sell yourself without shame! Let HR know why you’re great and why you’d be a perfect fit. Demonstrate that you’ve done your background research and that you have the chops for the gig. A good way to get the attention of hiring managers is to describe a problem you solved in the past or a tricky project that you nailed, and how you’ll use those skills at your next position. Letting them know you’ll bring that know-how to your next gig will make you an attractive candidate.

Convey your enthusiasm and your practical knowledge. Don’t just speak generally — sure, you’re a great marketing manager, but what can you do for their organization? And it’s fine to mention your past experience, but keep it to accomplishments that are relevant to the job at hand — if a hiring manager wants more information, they can always check out your resume or CV.

Close strong

As you finish your cover letter — which should be crisp, succinct, and readable at a glance — don’t forget to include a quick thank-you for the consideration. And end with a call to action, like a phone call or other conversation to advance you in the hiring process. It may sound like common sense, but ending with a CTA is a great way to be proactive about your interest.

Got any other tips for writing the perfect cover letter? Let us know, and good luck, freelancers!

Larissa Pham is an artist and writer based in Brooklyn, New York. She regrets to say she has read a lot of bad cover letters in her short life.