College professors and administrators share 5 tips for making your cover letter shine

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A cover letter is a job applicant’s opportunity to tell how your experience, education, and merits can make their company succeed. Although your resume tells the story of your professional history and achievements, a cover letter can be more tailored to the opportunity at hand. We’ve asked college experts for their suggestions about how to raise your cover letters to the next level to land the job of your dreams.

Realize the importance of a cover letter

Most applicants cling to the idea that they need to use a cover letter to tell their career story, but a cover letter is not a rehash of a resume. “Instead, a cover letter needs to address specific requirements of the position and demonstrate how the applicant meets those qualifications,” explains Eric Holmes, a faculty member in the composition department at Purdue University Global, an online university for working adult students.


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Skip the clichés

Holmes says many applicants focus on themselves by writing things like “This position is a perfect fit for both my career and personal goals” which is a completely off-topic statement. “An employer that an applicant has no connection to does not care about the career and personal goals of a complete stranger,” he says. Instead, Holmes advises, applicants need to focus on themselves in respect to what the employer is looking for: the specific skills/education/training that the position requires. Other examples of conditional phrases to avoid include using weak statements the words/phrases including ‘believe,’ ‘think,’ ‘feel,’ and ‘capable of.’ Says Holmes: “ ’I believe that I will be an asset to the company.’ Belief does matter. My children believe in Santa Claus. Own the statement: ’I will be an asset to the company.’ ”

Read the posting carefully and respond accordingly

Try and address the skills that are mentioned in the job posting. “When looking at a job posting, it is important to look at the job ad carefully to gain clues into what they are looking for when selecting the person they will hire,” says Sandra Mohr, dean of academic resources and administration, New England College of Optometry. “There are often clues in the posting that can help you with crafting your letter to show them that you have the skills they are looking for.” If there is a specific skill mentioned in the posting, write a sentence or two about your experience and how your skills can help the organization succeed.

Demonstrate you have researched the company

Mohr suggests familiarizing yourself with the company’s website, and to also Google the company to see what current news is out there around the organization. “Stand out from other applicants by taking the time to personalize your cover letter as much as possible based upon your research of the company and position,” she continues. “This is where your value should come through as to why you are someone they want to bring in for an interview.”

Steer clear of cover letter templates

It can be tempting to use a cover letter template, but this cookie-cutter approach may show your lack of creativity. “Throwing out traditional cover letter templates will not only keep you interesting to the reader but help you clarify whether or not your goals and values align with the company’s goals,” says Erin Howard, a career counselor and professor at Point Park University‘s Rowland School of Business. “Unless bland formality is your jam, use your unique outlook and language to forge a genuine connection.”