Cover Letter Best Practices

Palladian International conducted a benchmarking survey of cover letters used by active job seekers. This survey examined a variety of characteristics of cover letters in order to identify the best practices that job seekers should employ. The survey also uncovered a number of common mistakes that job seekers make.

Best Practices

  1. Write a Customized Cover Letter: Very few of the submissions included a customized cover letter. The vast majority either omitted the cover letter or had an overly general letter. Personalizing a cover letter’s salutation and customizing the body of the letter to the position will help create a compelling presentation. Customization also demonstrates effort and initiative.
  2. Give a Reason to Hire: The vast majority of cover letters made blanket statements similar to “I am confident that I am the best candidate for the position” or “I am confident I will be extremely successful in your organization.” These statements do little to help impress the hiring manager. One of the primary purposes of a cover letter is to generate interest and sell the job seeker. Do this with tangible accomplishments. A very limited percentage of cover letters focused on significant, specific accomplishments. Including just one accomplishment can help validate the remainder of the cover letter and get the hiring manager excited. The best cover letters had 3 or more accomplishments that directly related to the position the job seeker was pursuing.
  3. Give Information Not on the Resume: Only 8% of cover letters gave a reason why the job seeker was looking for a career change. This is a question that virtually every hiring manager will want answered. More importantly, if your cover letter and resume make a strong case for your track record of success, the question may come up: “If they are so good, why are they looking for a job?” There can be a lot of good reasons to look for a job. If you don’t include your reason in the cover letter, you open the door for doubting the credibility of your success.
  4. Keep it Short: The best cover letters had between 150 and 250 words. Letters that were 400+ words, on average, contained less content and were less valuable than the shorter letters.
  5. Make it Easy to Scan: The best cover letters utilized bullets with titles making it easy to scan the letter quickly. This improved the readability of the letter. Cover letters should draw the reader’s attention to the most important information. Once the reader focuses on the key points, they are more likely to read the entire cover letter and then read the resume thoroughly.