I won’t claim to be an expert at crafting the perfect cover letter, but I do have some pointers to share as a former newspaper editor, as well as some tips I picked up at professional development workshops during my journey.
First of all, it’s tough to pinpoint what a perfect cover letter looks like, because every employer has a personal preference.
The overarching piece of advice I can give on this topic would be to show your skills as a communicator. Be brief — limit yourself to 3-5 short paragraphs, and pretend you’re taking out a classifieds ad that charges per word. Look at every sentence, and ask yourself if you can say the same thing in 5-10 fewer words. By doing this, you’re improving the chances the letter will be read in its entirity. HR and hiring managers are blanketed with resumes on top of their everyday work, so you will be lucky to have your letter thoroughly read.
To that point, use words and phrases you know will get noticed. If I’m skimming through a letter and notice a unique metaphor in a cover letter, more than likely I am going to go back to read the entire sentence. I’d hate for everyone to update their cover letter with a metaphor — the point is to find words or phrases that will pop.
Another tip that goes with skimming hiring managers — put important information in the beginning of each paragraph. If someone is skimming paragraphs, he will catch the meat of what you have to say.
Make your cover letter relevant to the person who is reading it. Without Facebook stalking, ask the receptionist who will be reviewing resumes, and try to tailor the message to the person. Wouldn’t you read something about yourself?
Mention specifics about the company or agency. I like to know a person isn’t blasting out his resume. Write about a particular campaign you liked, an employee you met, etc. Don’t go on and on, but make that connection. This goes for pitching media, as well.
Don’t get too fancy with long words, and please don’t sound like a scripted telemarketer. Be a person — you’re not writing a bill. Let your voice come out of your letter.
I could add some more (and will if you ask), but I’d like to have some readers post their suggestions in the comments section.