Strategies & Tactics

Writing a Cover Letter That Will Catch HR’s Attention

May 1, 2018

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By Julie B. Fix, APR, Fellow PRSA

It’s a good time to be a job seeker: U.S. job growth is strong, unemployment is on a steady decline and openings are at an all-time high.

That doesn’t make the search any less daunting, however. Differentiating yourself from every other job seeker on the market isn’t a small feat, and the monotony of filling out online applications can make the task downright exhausting. That’s where a killer cover letter comes in.

Done right, a great cover letter is like a secret weapon for catching HR’s attention. Next to your résumé, it’s one of the most important, underutilized tools at your disposal.

A few quick tips when starting: Always date your letter. Skip a space. Type the inside address. Skip a space. Type the salutation (“dear”). Always use a name. Do NOT write “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Hiring Manager.” Skip a space before the first paragraph.

Here’s a cover-letter template to make yours stand out:


I.M. Student
1111 X Street * City, TX 77xxx
xxx-xxx-xxxx * imstudent@email.com * www.imstudent.com
Date

Name of the person you are writing to
His/her title (if applicable)
Name of his/her company
Mailing address
City, state, zipcode

Dear Mr. (Ms./Mrs./Dr.) Last name

Write two or three short sentences to introduce yourself, referencing the job you are applying for. If you have a connection with the person you’re writing to, then mention that. (It’s time you start building your network through internships and attending meetings and programs of professional associations.)

In the body of the letter (two paragraphs, no longer than four or five lines each), explain how your skills match the duties outlined in the job description, making sure to use the exact words from the posting. You might want to use a two-column format with bullet points: You asked for/I have.

If you have some special skills, then you should mention them. If you have had special experiences (you’ve traveled a lot, you’ve worked your way through college, supporting yourself or your family, or you’ve won awards), then mention them. Talk about “relevant” experience that you’ve had during internships or paying jobs.

Then, move into your closing. You want to express interest in the job and the company.

Your last paragraph should be a promise of action: I look forward to discussing this opportunity with you. I’ll call (or you can choose to say “email”) you in a few days to see when it might be convenient to schedule time to talk. (Then mark your calendar to do what you said you’d do.)

Thank you.

Sincerely,

Your signature goes here. Print and sign the letter (in black or blue ink) if you are mailing it (via snail mail). Scan your signature, save it as a .jpg file and insert it here if you are communicating digitally. Create a “signature folder” on your computer — your full name is one file and your first name is another.

I.M. Student

Enclosure: Résumé


Your Cover Letter Checklist

DO:

  • Use a business letter format
  • Use correct grammar, punctuation and spelling
  • Make sure it’s proofread two or three times after you’ve finished writing, editing, rewriting
  • Repeat the exact words from the job description as often as you can (without sounding repetitive)
  • Keep your sentences and paragraphs short
  • Keep your letter to one page with at least ½-inch margins on all sides
  • Keep it clear and interesting
  • Be polite and respectful and use the vocabulary of your prospective employer, not the vocabulary of your friends
  • Read it aloud to make sure it sounds “good” and also is conversational
  • Include:
    • What distinguishes you from the crowd?
    • What experience prepares you to work for me?
    • Why do you want to work here?
    • How do your skills and experience line up with my needs?
    • Why should I hire you?


DON’T:

  • Oversell yourself or be too self-descriptive
  • Use too much “fluff”(get to the point quickly because I’m going to give you about 10-15 seconds to grab my attention, perhaps less if I’m busy or have 500 applications)
  • Fail to research the company and to whom you’re addressing your letter
  • Fail to follow up a couple of days after you submit your letter and résumé (polite persistence gets job offers)

Julie B. Fix, APR, Fellow PRSA, is immediate past chair of the College of Fellows and director of undergraduate studies, Jack J. Valenti School of Communication, University of Houston.

Comments

Deborah Radman, APR, Fellow PRSA says:

Thanks for this Julie! Really good advice and so cool to see the College of Fellows more evident in S&T. d

May 4, 2018

Alyssa Foley says:

Prof Fix, thank you for the template! Lots of good tips here too

June 19, 2018

Curtis Nabors says:

What if I can't get the hiring manager's name? I've found it to be very rare to be able to get it.

July 16, 2018

D. Grabowski says:

I am a hiring manager for my department. I am so thankful that my HR team makes it next to impossible to find the name of a hiring manager to prevent my day from from being bombarded with emails, phone calls, and God forbid - unannounced visits. As mentioned in your article, sometimes 500 people apply for a job, so a good HR department will be sure the keep the hiring manager's name on the down low. I would not be less attracted to a candidate that started their letter with "To Whom It May Concern" since I don't want to be known until I make the first move and call you for an interview.

Sept. 12, 2018

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