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Critical Cover Letter Elements to Set Yourself Apart

Bonny Calfy | April 20, 2015

When applying for your dream job, it’s not only crucial to ensure your résumé is in tip-top shape, but also that your cover letter is in pristine condition. A strategic and well-written cover letter is like the cream-cheese icing on a strawberry cake.

“A solid cover letter makes me want to schedule an interview immediately,” said Lauren Nelson, vice president of Aesthetic Cogency, a communications firm. “In most cases, it can even help you overcome deficiencies in your résumé or a lack of experience. I would rather have a determined, passionate individual with a strong work ethic on my team than an Ivy League degree without tenacity every single time.”

Here are four critical elements to incorporate in your cover letter which will set you apart.

1. Keep it short and to the point

Just like when you’re compiling your résumé, pay attention to the length of your cover letter, too. If it begins to look like a novel, you have written too much. Instead of bulky paragraphs, try using bullet points and/or short paragraphs. This will help your strengths pop on paper. Keeping it short and sweet, while being specific, is pivotal to attracting an employer’s eyes.

2. Don’t be a “copy and paste” candidate

Candidates typically use cover letters as a means to tell potential employers they want the job, to prove they are qualified or to cross it off the list of application to-dos. While it isn’t bad to convey desire for the position or to show off your qualifications, don’t fall victim to writing one simply because it’s part of the process. A mistake often made with cover letters is sounding like you copied and pasted a generic template. If it sounds like one that has been sent to 20 different companies, you won’t stand out. And, chances are you will just be one paper in a stack of 100. The main goal of a cover letter is to let the hiring manager know you’re the perfect fit and why. Let your passion show! This will differentiate you from the ordinary “copy and paste” job seeker.

3. Sell yourself

Hiring managers are looking for individuals who display themselves confidently, so highlight features of your résumé that makes you the ideal candidate for your desired position. Use your cover letter as a way to showcase skills that you may not include on your résumé, perhaps due to space constraints. Some of these skills could include your ability to work well under stress, being deadline-driven, or demonstrating how you work well in a team environment or independently. Use real-life examples of each to demonstrate how you differ from the average Joe. The more skills you have in your wheelhouse, the higher the likelihood of you getting the job.

4. Be original

A great way to stand out is by connecting something specific about the company to your cover letter. For example, if you’re applying for an organization known for being a top place to work, let them know you’ve done your homework by mentioning it. You may even talk about the product or their value proposition. The hiring manager will be impressed by knowing you did research to ensure the company is a fit.

Build your professional portfolio as much as possible. This shows the hiring team you are fully committed to bettering yourself and their company. Writing a cover letter may seem like an intimidating task, but in the end, it could very well be the reason you get the position over another candidate. It’s easy to be a plain strawberry cake, but the ones with frosting are more likely to be sought out.

About the author
Author picture, Bonny Calfy
Bonny Calfy
As Paycom’s recruitment marketer team lead, Bonny Calfy writes about such topics as human capital management, company culture, talent acquisition and career advice. Her brand-awareness efforts at Paycom have included launching Paycom Careers’ blog and social media channels, and producing several recruiting videos, all to help attract top talent nationwide. Outside of work, Bonny enjoys reading, fishing and spending time with her son and husband.