Cover Letter Makeovers

No matter how stellar your resume, it’s your cover letter that can make or break your chance at an interview. All it takes is an antiquated “To Whom It May Concern” to get your reader’s mouse migrating towards the “delete” button. A lot of rules concerning cover letters have changed, mainly because of e-mail: In an e-mail cover letter, all that you have going for you is succinct, compelling, scannable content. Understand that fancy headers, heavy cream cardstock, and strawberry-scented stationery won’t save you. The following mini-makeovers of common mistakes, however, will.


Your first paragraph should state how you found out about the job and why you’re the best candidate.

Before: “To Whom It May Concern.”

After: “Dear Mr. Schneeburger”.

Track down the name of the director who oversees the position you’re applying for, or in the very least, the HR manager. If you’re replying to an anonymous listing (a Craigslist ad, for example), at least write “Dear Hiring Manager”.

Before: “My name is ___, and I would like to submit my interest for the graphic design position recently opened at your company.”

After: “I am writing in response to your posting for a graphic designer as found on the Media Bistro job board. As a designer with six years of experience in creative ad agencies, I am excited about the prospect of joining the Creative Cookies team.”

The before isn’t terrible, but you want to avoid stating the obvious. Don’t state your name (it should already appear as the email sender, and you’ll sign off with your name at the end). Phrases like “I would like to” or “the purpose of this letter” come across as passive and superfluous (remember your English teacher blasting you for writing “the purpose of this essay is…”). It is important, though, to state where you found the job posting, so be specific. Throw in your qualifications as succinctly as possible, and bonus points for citing the specific organization so they know you’re not using a mass template.


The second paragraph should be chock-full of specific information regarding your experience and qualifications.

Before: “I have extensive experience in customer service and am the perfect person for this job.”

After: “Within the first three months at In Touch Corporation, I implemented a customer feedback system that decreased negative feedback by 40% and increased our repeat customer base by 60%.”

Clearly, I don’t know if these numbers make sense or are even possible, but you get the point. Don’t just tell; show. Your qualifications will prove that you’re the perfect person for the job, so you won’t even have to tell them.


The third  paragraph should express your personal interest and include any information not found on your resume that makes you stand out.

Before: “I love your company and would love to work there. Please call me.”

After: “Your company is a leader in the education field; I am confident that my skills and passion would make me a valuable asset to your team.”

Sound confident, not desperate, and a modest amount of flattery couldn’t hurt. At the end of the day, cover letters are fairly formulaic, but it’s a matter of making those formulas work to your advantage that counts.

What are your secrets to a great cover letter? Where are you stuck on your cover letter? Tell us in the comments below!

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