You always run a spelling and grammar check twice on your cover letters before sending them off. You would never (and we mean never) use a template cover letter. Those are the basics, but we’d like to let you in on some unexpected things to check before sending off that cover letter that can make the difference between an interview and another email passed through a recruiter’s inbox.
1) Know When to Say “Hello,” And Know When to Say “Dear Sir or Madam”
First impressions aren’t everything, but when you’ve got a few paragraphs to represent yourself as good employee, those first few words will set the tone. Before dashing off an introduction, research the corporate culture of the place to which you are applying. Is it a venerable old institution headed by people who would command formality in person, or is it a forward-thinking startup comprised of entrepreneurs not much older than you are who reject hierarchy?
The best way to gauge the company’s tone is to analyze how the job opportunity was written. In writing, is the company looking for a “code ninja” or a “social media psychopath” or are they looking for a “diligent worker with critical reading skills.” That’s not to say you don’t have to be both (you do have to be both) – but posturing yourself as a good personality fit is an important step in letting prospective employers know you understand what their company is all about.
And no matter how chill the place seems (or how many team member Taco Tuesdays or Craft Beer Fridays their website touts), a “Hey there,” a “Hi,” or a “Sup?” will never be an appropriate introduction.
2) Get Specific
Bonus points if you’ve looked up online who may be reading your cover letter – usually an HR rep, an internship coordinator, or an assistant editor. Devoting five extra minutes of research is a good rule to live by when completing any task, but when writing a standard cover letter to a stranger, a personal touch can pay off.
If a job posting asks materials to be sent to “firstname.lastname@example.org,” there’s a good chance that Amy at This Company will be reading your cover letter. Find out her last name; make sure you understand her job. A quick, polite email to HR asking who you can address your cover letter to is also a simple way of showing you care about the people at a specific company.
3) Chop It Down, If You Can
Depending on whether you went to the same suburban elementary school as I did, you learned to write five paragraph essays in hamburger style: a rote introduction, three paragraphs with topic sentences, and a conclusion (usually ending “in conclusion, I…”). As you became a better writer, you learned you could deviate from that form. The same is true for cover letters.
Your cover letter doesn’t need to be formulaic if you’re able to creatively explain why you’re excited by the job and if you can tackle every single qualification listed. Don’t do an acrostic poem in lieu of an application. Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do. Three standard bricks of text won’t prove you’re a strong writer or a diligent worker. Do that with words instead.
4) Convert it to a PDF
This is a quickie: most prospective employers will want your cover letter converted into a PDF, which can be easily done when saving your cover letter on any word processor. If the job posting says that materials can be emailed as Word documents or as PDFs, still send it as a PDF.
There are always exceptions, but if you’re not sending your cover letter as a PDF, you’ll look amateur. It’s a good routine to fall into and it ensures the easiest passage of your cover letter to the people who need to see it most, as employers can easily view PDFs on and offline without having to open any additional applications on a computer desktop.
5) See who you know – immediately
Right before you send that cover letter, remember the search for the perfect internship or job is best done with a little help. Use LinkedIn, your college’s alumni directory, Twitter, your mom’s Rolodex from the eighties, your best friend’s brother’s roommate, and anyone or anything else you can think of who might know someone who can help you get your cover letter seen by the right set of eyes.
Sending off an application into the vast wasteland of the Internet can be discouraging and that’s why it always helps to reach out – in an appropriate way – and see if someone can give your cover letter a little nudge. I’d like to think that my friends, my peers, and the FindSpark community as a whole can land the perfect first job on their own merits and abilities, but sometimes, it is about who you know (and who those people know).
Now, get to writing! Share with us in the comments if you have anything else unexpected on your cover letter checklist.