When you're a job hunter, it's tempting to embellish your achievements. After all, if you're up against hundreds or thousands of competitors, you have to stand out in some way. And if it means stretching the truth in your cover letter, why not?
The thing is, there's a much better way to go about it. Instead of writing "I'm the best employee you can ever work with!" and leaving it at that, you'll come across as more confident — but not cocky — if you follow the tips below.
1. Draw Them in With a Strong Intro
It might surprise you to know that 60 percent of hiring managers don't read cover letters. What's even more surprising, however, is that those same hiring managers want you to include cover letters anyway.
Why? Think of it this way: If you're an interviewer, you won't bat an eyelash when an applicant walks into the room wearing a three-piece suit. But if that same applicant showed up in a two-piece bathing suit, your eyebrows — and, presumably, blood pressure — would shoot through the roof. You might not specify what applicants should do point-by-point in the job description, but you expect them to put in the effort all the same.
To grab the attention of a bored hiring manager, be clear about what makes you special from the beginning. After you introduce yourself in one or two sentences, write something like: "My experience boosting the social media visibility of high-profile clients makes me a perfect fit for the Social Media Manager position."
2. Use the Job Description as Your Guide
Not sure what to write in the body of the letter? Give the job description a second look, and pick the requirements you match.
For example, if the job calls for "experience with content management systems," you can write, "My experience managing high-traffic blogs makes me a perfect fit for this position." That way, you'll come across as someone who reads job descriptions thoroughly, which employers always appreciate.
3. Avoid Overused, Vague Filler Words
On the one hand, you have the phrases that make you look too insecure to want the job. There's "I think…," "I believe…" and "I'm sorry." On the other hand, you have phrases that make you look too sure of yourself, like "I'm the best" and "I'm ambitious/a team-player/a people person."
Unless you can back up these qualities with good, solid facts, it's best not to mention them in your cover letter at all.
4. Bring Out the Numbers
Speaking of facts, support your claims with numbers as much as possible. When you have statistics to back you up, you're less likely to come across as a braggart.
Let's say you want to prove you have "strong leadership skills." Instead of saying "I managed 500 employees over the past 10 years," say "During my time as a manager, I suggested we make these tweaks to our incentive system. As a result, the productivity of our 500 employees increased by 50 percent."
5. Mention That You're Overqualified, If Applicable (And in a Good Way)
What if, for one reason or another, you have to take a job below your skill level? Despite what you may think, it's acceptable to address that in your cover letter. But avoid being arrogant about the fact. Be honest but humble with your reasons: "I want to move into this field, and I understand I need to start from the bottom to do that."
6. Address Your Letter to a Person, Not an Entity
Few things raise an HR officer's hackles like "To whom it may concern" and "Dear Sir/Ma'am." If you're not sure to whom you should address your letter, don't be afraid to contact the company's hiring department directly. Note details like the full name, gender and exact job title. Employers notice when you're willing to go the extra mile for something as seemingly unimportant as a cover letter.
7. Close Your Cover Letter With a Strong Statement
It's easy to go on and on about your achievements, then jump to your closing signature right off the bat. However, you'll make more of an impact if you know how to write a closing statement. Do away with the generic "I look forward to hearing from you," and say something enthusiastic and confident, like: "I'm excited to learn more about this opportunity and discuss in more detail how I'm a fit for ABC Corporation."
8. Watch Out for Spelling and Grammatical Errors
This might seem like obvious and even unnecessary advice to some of you. Unfortunately, most employers will look for any reason to weed applicants out — especially if they enter a hiring manager's inbox in droves. No matter how impressive your qualifications are, it'll be difficult to land an interview if your letter consistently mixes up "their" and "there." Run your letter through your word processor's built-in spellcheck software, or have someone you trust look over your letter for you.
9. Limit Your Cover Letter to One Page
As mentioned earlier, most hiring managers don't really read cover letters, even if they require them all the same. If you want them to at least scan your letter, keep it short and sweet. Take out anything that doesn't add value or is redundant. Use strong, short verbs and active voice. Avoid including personal details irrelevant to the job, like "I once went mountain-climbing, and nearly fell down to my doom."
As long as your cover letter shows your reader why you're the best person for the job, that should speak volumes on its own.
10. Re-read Your Cover Letter With an Employer's Eye
Let your letter sit for a day or two, so you can look at it with fresh eyes. Afterwards, re-read your letter and imagine you're the hiring manager. If you were them, would you be falling all over yourself scheduling this person for an interview? Or would you silently shake your head and mutter, "Nice one, but try again," under your breath?
Often, the best way to know what an employer wants is to put yourself in their shoes.
Remember: If being a job hunter is like being a salesman, then your cover letter is your sales pitch. Make it concise but compelling, truthful but bold, and professional but memorable. Next time you send out another application, keep these tips handy!