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Seven Cover Letter Secrets for Job Search Success in 2014


by Cheryl Lynch Simpson

Like resumes, cover letters have changed a lot in recent years. If you’re planning a job search in 2014, it will be important to employ current cover letter best practices to give your candidacy an edge.

Here are seven such practices that will propel your cover letters from ho-hum missives to WOW communiques:

1. Shorten & Tighten: With the advent of Applicant Tracking Systems (the databases employer’s use to analyze, parse, and store incoming resumes) and Twitter, cover letter lengths have dropped in recent years from 500-600 words to 300-400 words on average.

― Be brief and direct. Use active verbs and lean sentences to get your points across with minimal fluff.
― Read back over your body text and eliminate unnecessary words and phrases.

2. Create a BrandYOU™ Opening: You have seconds to capture and hold your readers’ attention, so leverage a strong opening to begin your letter.

― Consider quoting a testimonial about your performance from someone who knows you well. Keep the testimonial short, specific, and strong – this is not the place for vague “hire Jan, you won’t regret it” claims.
― Or, cite a singular success story or key facet of your brand to immediately distinguish your candidacy from others pursuing the same role.

3. Overview Your Career to Date: Provide a brief overview of your career that emphasizes the depth and breadth of your experience in your industry or one or more related job functions.

― This is a great place to use key words drawn from the job posting you are referencing. Use buzz terms to describe your experience and the job functions with which you are most familiar.
― Tie the amount of experience you mention to the amount sought in the job posting. For example, if the job posting indicates the company is seeking someone with 10-12 years of experience and you have that amount or more, then say that you have “10+ years of experience.” If you possess less than that amount, say that you have “nearly 10 years of experience.”

4. Infuse an Achievement Focus: Achievements are the heart and soul of resumes and cover letters because the strongest way to prove your match for a job is to share relevant past successes that demonstrate your ability to do the required work.

― Showcase 3-4 achievement stories in your letter and set them off with bullet points to attract your readers’ attention.
― Follow the CAR formula to maximize the punch of your statements. CAR stands for challenge – action – results. By following this structure you’ll be able to share briefly the challenge you faced in a previous role, the actions you took to overcome it, and the quantifiable results of your efforts.

5. Offer Insight into Your Personality: Employers don’t hire solely based on skills or experience. Ultimately they hire based on your personality and perceived fit with their team. As a result, it’s important to include insight into yours in your letter.

― Choose 2-3 carefully well-chosen adjectives or adjective phrases to describe how you lead or relate to others.
― Be authentic in your choice of adjectives, character traits, and soft skills, though, since you may be hired on this basis. Make sure to share the “real you.”

6. Leverage Your Academic or Experience Pedigree: If you are fortunate enough to have experience with an esteemed company in your industry or degree(s) from highly respected institutions in your field, be sure to note these elements of your career pedigree.

― Include certifications, licenses, and professional associations that demonstrate your commitment to your work.
― If you’ve held leadership roles in any industry associations, these may be worth a brief mention.

7. Insert a Quote: Insert a quote in the body of your letter, to the right of your address block, or beneath your signature line.

― Choose one that exemplifies your leadership style or approach to your work, perhaps by an expert widely recognized in your field. Make sure you attribute the quote accurately.
― If you prefer, use a quote of your own.

Give your cover letters a makeover this year by employing several of these techniques to pack more power into fewer words. The result will be more interviews and more clarity about your unique skills and capabilities.

Cheryl Simpson
Cheryl Lynch Simpson is an award-winning resume writer and LinkedIn strategist. She offers a complimentary Polish Your LinkedIn Profile audio through Executive Resume Rescue.


  1. Vicki Hahn

    Thank you for this succinct article on how to move to the top of the pile. I may be applying for job I’ve wanted since 2008 very soon and need to bring my “A” game to the table.

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