From Our Readers

Cover Letter Advice From Someone Who's Reading Yours

I recently received a wonderful opportunity at work and as a result have been spending a lot of time sifting through resumes to find my replacement.  Everyone always talks about how important your resume is – it needs to be properly formatted, look nice and clean, be accurate.  A well-tailored resume is crucial, but the importance of the cover letter can often be overlooked.  As the person who is reading your cover letter, I know for a fact that one little thing can send you to the “no” pile.  We’ve got a lot of emails to go through, and the weeding out has to start somewhere!  I’d like to offer a few basic rules that will keep you from an automatic toss into the “no” pile.

Rule # 1: Include One!

I’m shocked at how many people do not include a cover letter with their resume submission.  Not including a cover letter is a huge mistake, and I’ll tell you why: This is your chance to stand out among a sea of lists and indented job descriptions.  This is your opportunity to show that you have a personality!  This is your opportunity to showcase your ability to write full sentences!

Rule # 2: Never submit a generic cover letter.

Take a few minutes to tailor a cover letter specifically to the position and company that you’re applying for.   I understand that it’s likely that you are applying to handfuls of jobs on handfuls of websites.  I get that, because I did it too.  However, it’s important to not come off as if this position is just one of many that you’re seeking.  After all, if you’re not excited about our position at our company, why should we be excited about you?

Rule # 3: Don’t go over the top.  

Don’t offer up your first born child (Okay, I maybe did this ONCE out of desperation… But trust me, even though it was a joke, it didn’t work).  Don’t act like you’ve been a huge fan of some obscure company since you were born.  We want someone who is enthusiastic, not stalker-ish.

Rule # 4: Don’t oversell yourself.  

If you graduated last year, don’t call yourself a “producer.”  If you’re applying for a receptionist position, don’t call yourself a “director.”  Yes, you should be proud of your accomplishments and absolutely be your biggest advocate, but be realistic.  I know for a fact that if you’re applying to an assistant position that you’re not a world-renowned photographer.  So, please, don’t try to make yourself appear over-qualified, because it’s more likely to hurt you in the long run.

Rule # 5: Put some personality into it!  

Make a (not likely to offend) joke!  Example: The company was founded by a Bostonian, and you’re a Yankees fan, make a baseball rivalry reference.  Mention why you love doing what you’re applying for – slip in a cute anecdote about how you knew you wanted to go into business because your lemonade stand was a huge hit the summer of 3rd grade.  Keep it short and simple, but personal.  Make me like you.  Your cover letter should be unique, just like you!

Rule # 6: This is your cover letter, not your resume – don’t send me another list.  

Cover letters not only serve as an insight into your personality, but also show your hopefully future employer a sample of your writing skills.  Realize that it’s going to be a person reading it(and they are probably reading hundreds others), so if you’re submitting a novel, your audience is more than likely going to be overwhelmed and you could get an outright “skip” just for that.  You’ll want to come off as professional and concise, yet friendly and likable.

Rule # 7: Don’t forget your grammar.  

I am a self-professed grammar Nazi and if you use the wrong your/you’re, you’re going into the “no” pile.  If you misspell, well, anything, you’re going into the “no” pile.  Improper grammar and misspellings not only irk English language enthusiasts like me, but they also give off the impression that you simply couldn’t be bothered to double check your writing.

Rule # 8: Have someone else look at your cover letter before you submit it.  

I make spelling mistakes and typos often at work, but this is why Quality Control exists, to put a fresh set of eyes on the task.  Find your own quality control (mom, a friend that used to be an English major, a former coworker) and use it!

There is no one right way to write a cover letter, but I hope that these tips will give some insight in how to write the perfect cover letter for you.  Good luck!

You can read more from Brianne Richard  on Tumblr 3004miles and skytumblingdown.

  • Britt Bulens

    Thanks for posting this! I had no idea about number 5! :) I’ll have to come up with something witty for my cover letter! :O)

    • Brianne Richard

      Give it a try! And good luck on your job search!

  • Bethany Gipson

    Love it! When I taught eleventh grade English, resumes were part of the curriculum. If I ever teach it again, this will definitely go in the handout!

    • Brianne Richard

      Thanks, that’s so cool!

  • Brianne Richard

    Thanks, that’s so cool!

  • Jennifer Louise O’Neill

    Your the farie godmother of cover letters!!!
    Just kidding, you’re the fairy godmother of cover letters!! Thanks for these awesome helpful points!

    • Brianne Richard

      thank you, so glad to be helpful!

  • Anna Dobben

    Great article!
    “a friend that used to be an English major”….ONCE an English major, always an English major :)

    • Brianne Richard

      haha you are so right about that!!!

  • Jessy Dolensky

    Nice post I just graduated college and I have to begin my job hunt so this post can turn out to be really handy!

    • Brianne Richard

      Good luck!

  • Jen Myers-Carlson

    These are all awesome tips! Love it! But it’s AMAZING how many different people say different things! I have two hiring manager friends who say they just toss the cover letters into the trash and eval on the resume alone!

    • Brianne Richard

      I can totally see that… I think it definitely depends on the job. For the position I was trying to fill, there is a lot of correspondence with high profile clients – in emails and on the phone. So for us, it was important for someone to have really great communication skills. I do think that no matter the industry it never hurts to show that you’re a great communicator. :-) Thanks for reading!

  • Savannah Morey

    as someone on a very emotionally draining and painful job hunt, i heart you right now, brianne richard!

    • Brianne Richard

      Aw, that is so sweet! Good luck on your job hunt! I know it can be draining but just keep your chin up. This time last year I was working at Starbucks and Target during the holiday season, and didn’t get to go home for Christmas because of it (it was so hard) and in the past year I got a great job, earned a raise, then got promoted (and another raise)! Just remember to stay positive even when things are tough because people will respond to positivity and enthusiasm!

  • Lisa Marie Francesca Allen

    Ah, had no idea! I thought cover letters were like tonsils, you didn’t really need one to get the job. I’m apply for jobs right now, I will definitely take your advice!

    • Brianne Richard

      Good luck on your job search!

  • Kate Hastings

    Erggg I know you’re right about all of this but cover letters are SO tedious. It’s so easy to be generic and basically just regurgitate what I said in my resume, but you’re right.. Who the heck wants to read that?

    So thanks for the advice! I like #5. I’ll try that next time and try to find a balance between playful/friendly and professional. Have fun and good luck with finding your replacement.

    • Brianne Richard

      I know, it can be tedious, but it’s your chance to show that you’re a real person and not just a list of job experiences! :-)

  • Hillary Scott

    what’s the deadline for resume submission? thx!

  • Brittany Woodell

    AMEN! You have no idea how many times I put people in the “no” pile for not following instructions on including a cover letter, or messing up your/you’re, or putting more bullet points in their cover letter that were already in the resume, or having a resume that’s two pages long… etc etc etc.

    • Brianne Richard


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