Here are the dos and don'ts of writing a top-notch cover letter.

With the unemployment rate at a 49-year low, employers are looking for outstanding personnel to fill the open positions. What helps make you stand out among the rest of the applicant pool is a cover letter that knocks the socks off hiring managers. We got our friend, Alice, a hiring manager at OPENonline, to dish out how to write the best possible cover letter that lands you the job.

"Recruiting is one of the many duties I have as the Director of Administration for OPENonline," she began, "our company has four offices nationwide and it is my responsibility to recruit for open positions in each office."

 business people shaking hands

"To put this into better perspective: one week I may recruit for an administrative position, and the next, recruit for sales, customer service, accounting, or IT. As you can imagine, I see all types of resumes in all formats covering wide ranges of experience. The list of cover letter do's and don'ts I put together is based on years of experience, and believe me when I say I've seen it all."

  • DO: always include a cover letter. Be sure it contains a concise statement that relevantly describes the applicable experience for the position you are applying for.
     
  • DON’T: be too wordy. Your cover letter should never be more than one page.
     
  • DO: try to write in the same manner that you speak. 
     
  • DON’T: try to use fluff or excessive "big" words to try to impress. It is better to be direct and to the point.
     
  • DON’T: explain previous job experience that has no relation or qualification for the position for which you are applying.
     
  • DO: make sure your cover letter is customized for the position for which you are applying and not the following blanket statement, "applying for the position you have available."
     
  • DO: if possible, address the cover letter to the individual who posted the job, or the human resources or hiring manager of the company. This might require some investigation into the company and is effective if you can uncover the correct person to whom you should address your application.
     
  • DON'T: accidentally leave information about a different company you applied for on your cover letter. 
     
  • DO: include your name and contact information on the cover letter.
     
  • DO: use this opportunity to set yourself apart and give a glimpse of you, your goals and aspirations, your qualifications, and your personality.
     
  • DO: be honest and sell yourself.

  • DON’T: be overly friendly or come off as conceited.
     
  • DO: make sure to check grammar, punctuation, and spelling.
     
  • DON’T: have grammar, punctuation, or spelling errors, I really can't stress this enough. There is really nothing worse than misspellings in a cover letter. 
     
  • DO: if applying by email, include your cover letter in the body of the email.
     
  • DON’T: if applying by email, have both an intro in the body of the email and attach your cover letter. This is redundant and takes away from your presentation.
     
  • DO: if applying by mail or in person, print your cover letter and resume on resume or presentation paper and present them in some type of folder. Remember this is all about first impressions!
     
  • DON’T: if applying by mail or in person, handwrite the address on your envelope or any portion of your presentation package. Have the address printed on the envelope.

"Your cover letter provides a powerful opportunity to provide a snapshot of your personality and your qualifications. Your cover letter can make or break your chance to be considered for a position. I’ve been known to grant someone a phone interview based on their cover letter presentation when their experience is otherwise on the cusp of the position’s necessary qualifications. So, approach your cover letter seriously, giving it the importance it deserves – and use it to your advantage! Good luck out there!"

Have any cover letter tips of your own or questions for Alice? Let us know in the comments!