Your resume is an indispensable tool in landing a new position. However, when it is piled high with countless others, how are you going to make sure that yours rises to the top? What’s going to give you the edge you need to beat out other highly qualified candidates? If you don’t have a high-ranking person in the company as a referral, then one fundamental way to distinguish yourself is the quality of your cover letter.

In some respects, the Cover Letter is becoming a forgotten art. According to a Jobvite study, 47% didn’t bother writing a Cover Letter for their most recent job application. Nevertheless, if you’re serious about landing a new position, we can’t stress enough just how important your cover letter is to your prospects.

Having worked with many job seekers and being a trusted recruiter for some of Ottawa’s most innovative companies, we have some advice for writing a persuasive Cover Letter. We’ll start by breaking down the elements you want to include in your Cover Letter, and then spell out a few things you will want to keep in mind as you’re writing.

Write to the Hiring Manager

Make sure you’re addressing your Cover Letter directly to the person who is making the hiring decision. Of course, in some instances, this person is not listed in the job posting. That’s when you will need to do some digging. Often the job posting will indicate to whom the position reports to, and a quick search of the company directory or their LinkedIn page will point you in the right direction. If you still aren’t entirely confident who the hiring manager is it’s ok to make an informed guess. Sometimes a quick call to reception will also yield results. Be sure that you do this with some care as most employers don’t want to receive calls about their job postings, but a polite inquiry of the receptionist for a contact name and title is usually fair game.

A Strong Introduction

Don’t be tempted to get too flowery with your introduction. Your opening paragraph is where you need to get their attention and make sure they want to keep reading. Which of your credentials makes you best suited to this position? Affirm this right at the start. If you have an internal company reference, also include this in the introduction. The entire opening paragraph should make them think this is someone worth looking at in more depth.

Listing Key Strengths

Some people erroneously think that a cover letter and resume is meant to land you a job. It’s not. The purpose is to create enough interest that they want to meet you in person. After your introduction, list a handful of skills and accomplishments to further demonstrate why you are a suitable candidate for the position and confirm that it’s worth their time to bring you in for a closer look. It’s entirely all right to use a bulleted list here to make it easy for them to get a good sense of your skills at a glance. When you’re putting this list together, be sure to use specific numbers to make your point, where possible. For example, if you increased sales in a previous position, how much did you grow them by, and how long did it take you to do it?

Finish Strong

The last paragraph is where you go for the close. First, be sure to thank the hiring manager for taking the time to review your application. Next, quickly reiterate why you’re a great candidate for this job and precisely how you help solve their problem. Finally, ask them for the interview. Tell them that you would like the opportunity to discuss the position further and discuss, in person, some of your initial ideas for how you can deliver on their needs.

Now that we’ve gone through the main elements of the cover letter, we are going to focus on some essential items and creative ideas to keep in mind while you’re crafting your message.

No More Than a Single Page

Remember that the job of your cover letter is to hook the reader. They need to feel confident that it’s worth their time to bring you in to discuss the position further. Don’t overwhelm them with lengthy prose. Keep your paragraphs tight and get the job done in a single page. If your text spills onto a second page, you can be sure that you are the only one getting to the end, no matter how impressive it is. The general rule is that from greeting to sign-off should be no more than half a page of type, with the opening address and closing signature filling out the rest of the space.

Don’t Reiterate Your Entire Resume

The cover letter is an excellent opportunity to pull out specific points that will impress the hiring manager. Remember that your resume is going to be attached behind it to fill in all the details. Resist the temptation to highlight too many items in your cover letter. Trust it to generate interest in your resume and ultimately land you an interview.

Expand on Your Soft Skills

Communication skills and creative thinking abilities can be challenging to convey on your resume, so bring them to life in your cover letter. Using an anecdote to highlight an innovative solution you developed to an intractable problem for a previous employer is the perfect way to demonstrate how you bring your skills to life as part of a team.

Match the Corporate Tone

When you’re doing your initial research on the company,  be sure to pay close attention to the tone of their communications. Some companies pride themselves on having a lighthearted feel, where others may tend to skew more formal. You want to match their corporate tone as closely as possible in your communication with them, without losing your independent voice. Crafting your Cover Letter so that you sound like a good culture fit right from the start can only improve your chances of booking an interview.

Finish Like a Professional

Many professionals spend too much time agonizing over the best way to sign-off their Cover Letter. Just remember to keep it polite and professional. Don’t use this as a place to demonstrate your creative flair. If you’re struggling, you can’t go wrong with “Sincerely,” or “Sincerely yours.” If you prefer something a touch less formal “Best regards,” “Kind regards,” or “Respectfully yours” are also good options. Stay away from sign-offs that are too personal such as “Warmly,” “Affectionately,” or “Best wishes.” Furthermore, leave overly casual terms like “Cheers” and “Take care” entirely out of consideration.

Spelling and Grammar are Super Important

It should go without saying that your Cover Letter needs to be completely free of spelling errors. The package you provide to a hiring manager as your application is presenting your credentials and conveying that you are an earnest professional interested in joining their team. Spelling and grammar errors on your documents serve as large red flags and indicate that you don’t care enough to double-check your work.

It can be difficult sometimes to effectively edit a letter you’ve written. When you’ve spent considerable time revising the document, apparent errors can be hard to detect as you go somewhat blind to your own mistakes. The solution is to have someone you trust review it who can serve as a competent editor. You can always decide to reject their copy suggestions, but at least you can be sure that you’ve alleviated any critical errors. Another excellent tool for spelling and grammar checking your communication is Grammarly. Better than any spell checker on the market, this tool will help you spot grammatical, word use, and spelling errors that slip past the best of proofreaders. There is a free version that will do most everything you need, but if you want to be sure you have caught everything there is also a premium version that will help bring your writing to the next level.

Before you send in your application, use our quick checklist below to make sure you haven’t missed anything:

  • I have included my name, professional title and full contact information.
  • My résumé and Cover Letter have a consistent look.
  • I have not used cliches such as: “To whom it may concern…”, “I am writing to express my interest…,” or “My name is…”,
  • I have highlighted my most appropriate skills and achievements for this position in my Cover Letter.
  • I have not merely repeated the information on my resume
  • It is easy to see why I’m a good fit for this position
  • My Cover Letter concludes with a call to action
  • My Cover Letter doesn’t feel overly text heavy
  • There are no spelling, punctuation, or grammar errors
  • I have personalized my Cover Letter for the position
  • I am sending this from a professional looking email address. (You can use popular free services such as Yahoo, or Gmail but be sure the part before the @ symbol includes your name and not something unprofessional)

If you are looking to make a career change, why not take advantage of LRO’s considerable experience matching job-seekers to employers in the Ottawa area. There’s no cost to you, and we can provide you with the right guidance to land you in the perfect position for you.

Deborah Montgomery

Author Deborah Montgomery

Deborah Montgomery currently serves as the Director of LRO Staffing's Government division. Specializing in the placement of consulting and temporary help professionals within various levels of government - primarily in the Ottawa region, Deborah is a strong believer in transparency and honesty and is committed to excellence in the staffing industry.

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