How to write a cover letter that sells your skills

Cover letters need to convey your value. Follow these steps and you’ll have a priceless piece of self-promotion to share with employers.

How to write a cover letter that sells your skills

A great cover letter is a powerful marketing tool.

You may think of a cover letter and resume as little more than paperwork, but the truth is, those are two very valuable marketing tools. Great marketing has the power to persuade, and that’s exactly what you’re trying to do: Convince a hiring manager to call you in for an interview. A great cover letter can help do just that.

Like a great resume, a well-crafted cover letter can help you sell yourself to an employer. “Cover letters complete the package by giving job seekers an opportunity to say things that they can’t address on their resume,” says resume and cover letter writer Leigh Green.

A dynamic cover letter also lets you “convey that you’re enthusiastic about the position and that you’re keenly aware of how your skills and experience make you the best person for the job,” says Robyn Horn, a resume and cover letter writer.

So, how do you write a cover letter that sells? By following a few simple steps.

Do your homework

Start by researching the company you’re applying to, says Monster resume expert Kim Isaacs. You need to understand what’s important to them and what they pride themselves on. Monster’s company profile pages are great resources.

Aside from checking out the company’s website, read news articles about the company, review quarterly reports if the company is public, and talk to current employees for insight into the organization’s culture. Also, Horn recommends viewing the employer’s social media channels and following the company’s executives on social media. Gather all the information you can about the organization’s core values, culture, and business goals.

Glean key information from the job posting

Job descriptions offer an invaluable snapshot of the position—and, they contain keywords you’ll want to weave into your cover letter. “Look at the most frequently used words in the job posting,” says Horn. “Those are often terms you’ll want to incorporate.” Do this for each cover letter you write so that they’re tailored to the jobs you’re pursuing.

Moreover, “zero in on the skills that are listed in the job posting,” says Horn. “Specifically, soft skills are something you’ll want to address in your cover letter.”

Stick to a single page

People have short attention spans. Hiring managers and recruiters are no exception, especially when they’re faced with a stack of job applications. As a result, a one-page cover letter is a must. “If your cover letter drifts over one page, you need to take a weed wacker to it,” Horn says.

Construct your letter

Ready to sit down and compose your cover letter? Follow these tips:

The salutation

Ideally you want to address the cover letter to the hiring manager or recruiter who’s assigned to the job opening, says Green. Your best approach, Isaacs says, is a formal greeting such as Dear Ms. Alvis or Dear Mr. Yang. (If you're unsure of the person’s gender, write out the person’s full name.)

If the hiring manager or recruiter’s name is not included in the job posting, you may have to do some digging. You can ask the company’s human resources department or a current employee for the hiring manager’s name.

If you hit a dead end, Isaacs recommends using “Dear hiring manager” instead of a stale salutation like “Dear Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.”

The opening paragraph

Newsflash: Hiring managers are busy—they don’t have the time or the patience to wade through fluff. That means your opening paragraph has to be direct. Clearly state the position you're applying for, how you heard about the job opening (e.g., referral from a current employee, Monster), and a synopsis of why you’re the best candidate for the position. For example:

Your position advertised on Monster is an excellent fit with my qualifications, as the enclosed resume will attest. My background includes 10 years of success managing international sales programs, top-ranked regions, and Fortune 500 accounts. I offer particular expertise in the high-tech sector, with in-depth knowledge of networking technology that will benefit your team.

The body

This is where you lay out, in detail, the top reasons why you're worthy of a job interview, Isaacs says. Keep your audience in mind: Hiring managers are self-centered—they want to know what you can do for them, not learn about your life story.

You’ll need to demonstrate how your credentials, motivation, and track record would benefit the company. You can accomplish this by citing anecdotes that highlight your skills, focusing on the outcome. That means, you want to show results. Using numbers is a great way to quantify your achievements (e.g., “Because I created and implemented a new marketing plan at my last job, the company saw sales increase by 30%.”). Make sure to address your unique selling points—if you’re bilingual, for instance, explain how that would make you a more valuable asset.

With respect to formatting this section, “nothing says you have to stick to the traditional paragraph by paragraph structure,” says Green. “Bullet points can make the information easier to digest.”

The closing paragraph

No cover letter is complete without an expression of appreciation, which is where the closing paragraph comes in. Horn offers this script:

I greatly appreciate your time and consideration for [name of position] and look forward to speaking with you further at your earliest convenience. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.

The signature

Generally, a professional sign-off, such as “sincerely” or “respectfully yours,” is the way to go. Green’s preference is “best regards.” “I think it’s a little more unique than ‘sincerely,’” she says.

Get your foot in the door

Now that you know what goes into a well-written cover letter, turn your attention toward your resume. After all, that is likely to be the first piece of material a hiring manager will come across when you apply for a job. Your resume needs to highlight your skills and experience, while also showing why you would be such a valuable asset to the company. Need a little help? Get a free resume evaluation today from the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service. You'll get detailed feedback in two business days, including a review of your resume's appearance and content, and a prediction of a recruiter's first impression. It's a quick and easy way to make sure your job search is reaching its full potential.