Seven Ways to Improve Your Cover Letter and Get Your Application Noticed

cover letterSelena Dehne, JIST Publishing

Don't underestimate the power of a cover letter. When well-written, attractively designed and customized for the recipient, a cover letter is a powerful tool that can practically scream, "Interview this candidate immediately!"

But when they are thrown together using little to no consideration, personalization or creativity -- as cover letters often are -- letters are as ineffective in the job hunt as blank sheets of paper.

"This is a major misstep when job searching," say Wendy Enelow and Louise Kursmark, co-authors of "Cover Letter Magic." "You should take advantage of every opportunity there is to stand out from other candidates."

Enelow and Kursmark also say that writing a cover letter can be more fun than job seekers realize. "With the right perspective and a positive attitude, you'll find that it affords you great flexibility. There is no one set format in which they must be written. There is no one style in which they must be presented. In fact, there are very few rules at all, and because they are so flexible, cover letters allow you to positively present just those skills, qualifications, achievements and credentials you want to bring to the recipient's immediate attention."

There are a variety of ways job seekers can get creative with their cover letters and bring them to life in ways they never considered. In their book, Enelow and Kursmark suggest a few of these techniques:

1. Find out what your target employer's slogan, catch phrase or mission statement is and brainstorm ways to include it in your cover letter's introduction. This technique will quickly capture the reader's attention, demonstrate that you are familiar with the employer and stand out from other candidates' one-size-fits-all cover letters.

2. Add a table or two-column section that closely connects the employer's requirements to your qualifications and professional achievements. This strategy will quickly provide the employer with concrete evidence that you're a good fit for the job and worth learning more about.

3. Begin with a thought-provoking quote relevant to the position, the employer's goals or your target industry. Many people love to read, share and ponder quotes. Including one in your cover letter can be a quick and effective way to engage the reader.

4. Feature a strong headline near the beginning of the cover letter. To keep it brief, yet powerful, address one of the employer's key concerns or spotlight your expertise or an attribute that will be particularly appealing to the employer.

5. Develop your own slogan or mission statement and include it near the top of your cover letter. This technique will enhance your career brand and stand out much like a headline would. To draw even more attention to the phrase, place it inside a graphic element that is attractive and appropriate.

6. Add a "P.S." to the end of your cover letter. Often, it's the first thing a person will read.

7. Include testimonials about you in the body of your cover letter or in an attractive sidebar. Testimonials will emphasize your skills and achievements and support claims you make about your expertise and why you're the best candidate for the job.

Next: Rejection Letters Hurt, But Some are Really Funny >>

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Did anyone notice all of the "expert suggestions" were contributed by WOMEN? I think AOL is sexist! Try getting a man's perspective on how to do a resume and cover letter! We men do not want to come off and needy and overly pathetic. Sometimes HR people want you to get to the point and stop with all the flowery B.S. They can see right through it. At least I can.

December 02 2010 at 2:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

are we writing a cover letter or a Christmas newsletter? sidebars, tables, slogans AND a p.s.? really? personally if i saw all that clutter it would immediately be trashed! that being said, i do agree with a powerful, RELEVANT quote strategically placed. like Scotte said, represent yourself to your best ability and confidently stand behind the final product.

July 09 2010 at 9:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree, I've had two different interviews. Where a neighbor got me the interview, they were really hurting for expierenced workers. I had tons of experience & a really good work record, no problems. But yet both interviewers were very professional. Both men in their 40's, like myself. Only to tell me all this company kept doing was hired relatives usually of the bosse's & their young kid's friends as well. Who usually quit after a few days, weeks or months.

These were both good paying jobs as well. Only a handful left to go to college. The others were usually, high, or hung over & just lazy. Both interviews were the best I ever had in my life. Until the Human rescources people, both woman in their mid 30's-early 40's. Basically minutes later gave me the bum's rush, both very cocky & insulting. About my age & even being a Marine once.I found out later from the first interviewers. The warehouse head supervisors. These woman only hire young guys they think will eventually bed! I even had woman I knew who worked at both companies that this was common knowledge at these companies. Then they wondered why people just quit looking after awhile!

June 04 2010 at 12:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

No kidding LI,NY! I have interviews in the past where they were more nervous then me. Which I guess it was new for them to conduct. Or the fact I was once a marine scared them for some stupid reason. Like watching too many Hollyweird versions of psycho marines. I've had several interviewers & bosses. Tell me they liked my resume because it was only one page, simple, short & to the point. Also that it wasn't all prettied up all flashy with bright colored paper etc. Looking desperate, shouting look at me! Look at me! Like if they were made by grade school children on a high tech printer. Honstey is the best policey still in most cases. Unless their just looking for YES men who will kiss their butts 24-7. Which I wouldn't want to ever work for a company like that any way.

June 04 2010 at 12:38 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have a new respect for cover letters after reading the article "Seven Ways to Improve Your Cover Letter and Get Your Application Noticed". Thanks.

June 04 2010 at 12:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I agree with swampshadow. I see advice in print every other week saying to do it one way and then read another saying just the opposite the next week. And Swampy, I got to tell you...while putting my rez out there for folks to see I was sent emails by two separate firms, neither of whom I contacted, telling me how bad my rez is and all the wonderful things they can do to improve it. They then go into detail recomending changes to be made to make it more attractive to bosses and recruiters. Then at the end they both say "by the way, if you're too busy or still don't get it, WE can write a perfect resume for you." The only difference between the two was the price. One wanted $400 and the other wanted half that much. Now you have to ask yourself, how much better can a $400 resume be than what I've written myself? And the answer is, not much.

June 04 2010 at 12:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They seem to treat it like a game. Instead of concentrating on the qualfications of the candidate, they do things like this. The ironic thing is that they know nothing of the actual work you would be doing, and have a superficial understanding of what it entails-if at all.

June 04 2010 at 8:29 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I experienced all of this years ago. It's not easy being ahead of everyone else in this experience. But if you look to our political history of the last 30 years, much of this sort of employment abuse has been the result of Republican Administrations that deregulated standards, including certain worker's and civil rights. It is illegal to ask personal information or politcal views in an employment interview. It is also illegal to say that the candidate is "over qualified," as I had heard for so many years. It is the candidate's responsibility to remind the interviewer that personal questions have nothing to do with one's qualifications for hire. And while such things are illegal, these laws are uninforcible as long as the government allows them to be broken. So speak up, America!

June 04 2010 at 8:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

It might help if those who do the hiring would stop trying to trip up the people they are interviewing. Too many of those hiring act like total assholes.

June 04 2010 at 8:22 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mike Sanders

My PS's are often longer than the main body of text... I always thought it was weird, but I guess I was ahead of the game.

June 04 2010 at 8:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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