13 Cover Letter Tips and Tricks to Achieve Greatness

Updated: September 9, 2020

By Laura Riley

Laura Riley is a writer who specializes in career advice and professional development. She has a master’s degree in student affairs and higher education from Miami University.

If you’re on the hunt for an internship or entry-level job, I’m sure you’ve noticed that the internet is overflowing with cover letter tips and advice on what to include.

But reading articles is one thing; understanding how to act on those suggestions is another. If you want valuable and actionable tips on writing a cover letter, you’re in the right place. In this article, I’ll share 13 cover letter tips and tricks you can start using right now.

1. Thoroughly read the job description

To write an effective cover letter, you need to understand the ins and outs of the job description.

The trick: Copy and paste the job description into a Word document and carefully review the minimum qualifications, preferred qualifications, and core responsibilities. Or take the old-fashioned route: print out the job description and grab a highlighter.

2. Focus on the keywords

Keywords help match your qualifications to the open position, so you need to figure them out and integrate them into your letter.

The trick: After reading the description, use the “Find” function (i.e., Ctrl+F for Windows or Command+F for Mac). Experiment by entering a variety of likely keywords, such as “communication” or “collaborate.” Your computer will highlight every appearance of each word, so you can find the most common ones and tailor your cover letter accordingly.

3. Customize it

Never submit the exact same cover letter to multiple positions. While you’re at it, get rid of generic phrases such as “Dear employer” or “I would love to work for your company.”

The trick: Include the name of the company, the position title, and an interesting tidbit about the company in your introduction. For example, “I was immediately drawn to XYZ Company’s focus on serving the greater Los Angeles community, and I can’t wait to contribute to that mission as your communications intern.”

4. Tell a story

Just like a good book, the first sentence of your cover letter should grab the reader’s attention. Avoid cliché phrases like, “I am writing to apply for your internship.”

The trick: Write something that’s uniquely you but still professional. For example: “When I was 13, I found a stray kitten, raised it, and discovered my love for animals. I am incredibly excited by your internship for zoology majors.”

5. Don’t be pushy

You will inevitably find cover letter samples that say, “I will call your office in a week to schedule an interview.” While you want to appear confident, this is too much.

The trick: Communicate your sincere interest without being aggressive. Try something like, “I’d welcome the opportunity to speak with you about how I can contribute.”

6. Keep it short and sweet

More than one page and it’s too long; just two sentences and it’s way too short. Stick to 3–5 well-written, succinct paragraphs.

The trick: Delete any irrelevant or repetitive information. While it’s awesome that you volunteer with 10 different organizations, choose the most relevant one. Every sentence should say something completely new about you.

7. Be specific

Generic claims and buzzwords do not add value to your cover letter. Explain what you did and why it matters to the hiring manager and the company.

The trick: Numbers and details are your friends. Rather than making fluffy claims like, “I did marketing research,” focus on the details. What kind of research? Which program did use? What was the quantifiable impact? “I used SPSS to analyze survey data, improving the user experience for 2,500+ people per month.”

8. Don’t rewrite your resume

Don’t waste valuable cover letter space by reiterating what’s on your resume. Tell a story, integrate your personality, talk about the company, and share your passion.

The trick: Compare your cover letter and resume side-by-side. Does it look like you plagiarized your own resume? If so, make some changes.

9. Express your personality

It can be tempting to Google “cover letter sample” and quickly update that ready-made template. But don’t do it; your cover letter needs to be yours.

The trick: Check out our basic cover letter samples and use them as a jumping-off point. Once you’ve written a draft, read it out loud. Read it to a (brutally honest) friend. Does it sound like you? If not, go back and try again.

10. Edit your cover letter

Nothing will get you eliminated from the application pool faster than typos. They indicate a lack of attention to detail—and a lack of caring.

The trick: Fresh eyes, fewer typos: Have someone else review your cover letter if at all possible. Additional tricks include proofreading a printed version, reading it aloud, and going through word by word. See what works best for you!

11. Address your letter to a specific person

Don’t use “To Whom It May Concern.” Make sure you address a specific hiring manager. Use their full name, preferred pronoun (if you know it), and correct spelling.

The trick: Companies will often list the hiring manager on the job description. If you can’t find it, call Human Resources and ask. Simply say, “Hi, I’m applying to your open internship position #12345. Could you tell me who the hiring manager is for this position?”

12. Name drop

It really is all about who you know; in fact, 85 percent of jobs are filled through some form of networking. So, don’t be afraid to mention any friends, family members, or acquaintances who work for the company you’re applying to. Just be sure to give them a heads-up beforehand to check that they’re okay with your mentioning them.

The trick: Mentioning your contact in your introduction ups the odds that your letter will actually get read. Try something like, “After speaking with the director, Jackson Lee, at your recent networking event, I am incredibly excited to apply for the human resources internship with ABC Company.”

13. Focus on what you can do for the company

I’m sure you’re awesome, but your letter isn’t actually all about you. The key to writing a great cover letter is explaining how you will add value for the employer. Why should they hire you?

The trick: Read through each section of your letter and ask, “How does this relate to the company?” If you can’t answer that question, make some changes.

Implement these 13 cover letter tricks—and check out our full guide on how to write a cover letter—and you’ll be well on your way to landing an interview.