30+ Cover Letter Tips for Success
Every day, thousands of Canadian job seekers participate in a tough competition to try and reach their goal of being invited to an interview. Many will be disappointed, though, especially if they’re relying on a do-it-yourself résumé and cover letter set created from templates. Others, however, make an investment in their future by taking a thoughtful approach to each job application. They’ll craft strategic and targeted job-search documents, often engaging the expertise of a professional résumé/cover letter writer. Here are 30+ cover letter tips used by professional writers to make their clients’ cover letters shine above the competition and achieve a higher rate of success in the Canadian labour market.
1 – Cater to the needs of the employer.
Only when you know the employer’s needs can you present an appropriate solution. Before starting to write, you and your client should research the opportunity thoroughly. Make sure you have correct, current information so that you can demonstrate your research skills and insights to the recipient. Tailor the letter to the specific needs of the job, company, and industry.
2 – Use a formal letterhead.
Open the letter with an attractive, high-quality letterhead that matches the colour and style of the résumé header. When the letterhead design is consistent with the résumé, you create a brand identity for your client.
3 – Include at least one key piece of contact information.
Make sure to include — at the very minimum — a phone number and professional email address. This makes it easier for recruiters and hiring officials to call or email your client.
4 – Format the date correctly.
In Canada, the typical format for a date is alpha numeric. Lay out the date in one of these formats: May 17, 2021 or 17 May 2021.
5 – Address the letter to the correct person.
Make your best effort to find out who will be reading your client’s letter. Before sending the letter, double check that person’s full name and job title to ensure that you are sending the cover letter to the correct person. Always confirm the spelling of the recipient’s name by checking their LinkedIn profile or listing on the company website.
6 – Don’t bury the target opportunity.
Be clear about the position or opportunity that your client is pursuing. Do this at the beginning of the letter. Use a separate subject line or bold the title of the targeted role to make it stand out in some way. Include a position or job number if that information is included in the job posting.
7 – Include a formal address block with the recipient’s information.
Include the full name, job title, and complete mailing address of the person to whom you are sending the letter. The format should be similar to what you would put on the front of an envelope if you were mailing it.
8 – Open the letter with a personalized salutation.
Whenever possible, try not to open the letter with generic or vague salutations such as “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Sir.” Personalize the salutation with a name. Lead with a title such as “Dear Mr.” “Dear Ms.” or “Dear Dr.” followed by the last name of the person you are addressing. For a business letter, use a colon at the end of the name. If you can’t find a name, then write to the recipient’s job title: “Dear Recruiter:”, “Dear Human Resources Manager:”, or “Dear Accounting Manager:”. If you are really stuck and cannot determine the job title of the recipient, then use something like “Dear Hiring Manager:”.
9 – Don’t be too casual.
Use a courteous, friendly, and professional tone throughout your letter, but avoid being formulaic. Use active language whenever possible and avoid trendy words – clichés and slang. Don’t use text message jargon. Avoid acronyms and abbreviations unless you are certain the reader will understand them. Technical jargon or industry buzzwords should also be left off unless they are appropriate. Use non-discriminatory, inoffensive language. Avoid humour, sarcasm, and anything else that might be taken the wrong way.
10 – Express your client’s value.
A letter is an opportunity to sell. A well-written cover letter shows your client’s personality, ambition, and initiative. Your letter should answer the employer’s question “Why should I hire you?” The answer to that question is your client’s value proposition. Explain, in a specific and targeted way, why your client is an ideal fit for the opportunity.
11 – Avoid making it all about the client.
A cover letter is about what your client can do for the employer. Focus on the company’s needs, objectives, and the results they seek. Minimize the use of the word “I” so that your client doesn’t come across as self-centred. When you do feel it’s appropriate to use “I,” try to embed it in the middle of a sentence instead of leading with it.
12 – Lead with an attention-grabbing first paragraph.
Don’t open the letter with typical phrases such as “I’m writing to apply for your advertised position” and “enclosed is my résumé.” Instead, use the first paragraph to capture the reader’s interest. Create common ground and compliment the reader. Express briefly what your client admires about the person, company, industry, or opportunity. If someone known to the recipient has referred your client, mention that person by name. Then, talk about why your client is a good fit for the targeted position.
13 – Don’t repeat phrases from the résumé.
Don’t rehash what’s in the résumé. The cover letter is a unique opportunity to highlight particular offerings, experiences, and skills that the employer needs. It’s also a chance to include compelling information that would not be included in the résumé, for example, “My father worked for your company for 20 years and instilled a great deal of respect in his children for the work done here.” Write creatively and focus specifically on why your client is the ideal person for the job and company.
14 – Be sure to include a cover letter when submitting a résumé.
Some recruiters will immediately disqualify an applicant if the cover letter is missing. Even if this does not happen, those applicants who have taken the time to include a letter will appear more proactive and interested in the opportunity than those who have not. It’s important to carefully read the directions for applying in order to determine what the recruiter really wants.
15 – Create a formal cover letter.
Microsoft Word is the most popular software for creating business letters. The text of a cover letter should be formatted like a standard business letter. Follow this format from The Balance Careers.
16 – Steer clear of using a form letter or template.
Tailor the letter toward the specific advertised position or job title where you and your client feel there will be a good fit. Figure out the employer’s underlying needs and address them in your client’s authentic “voice.”
17 – Avoid pasting sections of the job posting into the letter.
Tie the letter closely to the opportunity by incorporating some, but not all, of the wording found in the job description or advertisement. Maintain integrity by only selecting keywords and phrases that fit your client’s abilities.
18 – Ensure the contents flow in a logical sequence.
Use the body of the letter to draw the reader in and compel them to take a deeper look at the résumé. Clarify why achievements listed in the résumé will be valuable to your client’s new employer. Give tangible proof of previous accomplishments. Organize the information logically and highlight only a few key words and phrases.
19 – Make sure your use of language is free of errors.
The Government of Canada Translation Bureau publishes “Writing Tips Plus,” an online guide to writing and editing. This in-depth resource will help you to find answers to questions on grammar, punctuation, spelling, and other challenges of the English language in the Canadian context.
20 – Ensure that your grammar is perfect.
Make sure you know and apply the subtle nuances of grammar that are required in Canadian English. Best Canadian Cover Letters explains that “In Canada, we find that the issue of ‘Canadian English’ versus ‘American English’ comes up regularly. Although Canadian English is not exactly the same as American English, it is not British English either.” Use Best Canadian Cover Letters along with Writing Tips Plus to ensure that your grammar is perfect.
21 – Avoid spelling errors.
Don’t rely on the automated spell check feature in Word. Use a proper Canadian English dictionary (found online) to check the spelling of words. Better yet, have an English teacher, business writer, or professional résumé writer double check everything before the letter is submitted.
22 – Make your letter reader-friendly.
Make it easy for the recruiter to understand what your client has to offer. Ensure readability and retention with a concise, well-written letter. Remember that there is a real person reading your document. Respect that person’s time. Keep to the point of your message and use simple language. Avoid bulky, complicated paragraphs and multiple pages. Ensure that there are no fragmented or run-on sentences. Ruthlessly eliminate all unnecessary words.
23 – Don’t hype your client too much.
Speak to the reader in an authentic voice. Your goal is to express your client’s confidence and proficiency, but not arrogance. Don’t use big, fancy words unless you know their meaning and they make sense in the context of the client, position, company, and industry being targeted. When explaining your client’s accomplishments, never exaggerate or embellish the facts. On paper, it may come across as bragging. Instead, back up your claims with evidence of the outcomes your client has achieved in the past.
24 – Keep important challenges out in the open.
Be honest and transparent by addressing any barriers or possible concerns in the letter — especially if they will be immediately apparent to the reader of the résumé or to the interviewer. For example, if your client has a visible disability, but it will not hamper the work they will be required to perform, mention that in the cover letter.
25 – Don’t forget to address the competition.
By understanding what other applicants have to offer, you can explain why your client’s offerings are different. This does not mean that you need to highlight the competition’s strengths. Rather, explain what makes your client stand out from the competition and explain how those skills, experiences, and qualities will benefit the employer.
26 – Be sure to include a call to action.
Thank the reader for taking the time to review the letter and résumé and for considering your client for the position. Then, close the letter in a proactive way. State that your client will follow up on a certain date with a phone call. Then, make sure the applicant follow through. Don’t make the call to action if it won’t be fulfilled. Politely invite the employer to contact your client directly.
27 – Format the letter in way that’s consistent with the résumé.
Present a consistent brand by matching the design style of the résumé. Ensure the look and colour scheme is consistent across the two documents. Don’t be too creative in design, though. In most cases, business documents such as cover letters should be professional and conservative. Use a font that’s easy to read and don’t make the margins too small. Unless there is a good, specific reason for making an “over the top” presentation, keep it simple and accessible.
28 – Use a high quality printer.
If a hardcopy of the cover letter will be sent out, ensure that your printer cartridge is working correctly. The text should not be pale, the print should be legible, and there should be no ink blots or streaks.
29 – Don’t forget that the letter must be signed.
Have your client sign the letter using a blue or black pen. Alternatively, if the letter will be uploaded or emailed, add an electronic signature stamp.
30 – Remember to indicate on the letter that the résumé is enclosed or attached.
Either mention within the letter that the résumé is included or add a line at the bottom indicating that there are enclosures. And, if you say that the résumé is enclosed or attached, don’t forget to actually include it. It happens!
BONUS TIP – Above all else, eliminate all typos and other blatant mistakes.
Proofread and edit everything very carefully. Then proofread again. Show that your client can communicate effectively and professionally by avoiding any careless mistakes. Read the final document aloud to ensure that there are no errors. Once you are satisfied that the letter is perfect, pass it by someone who has a strong command of the English language for another thorough review.
Before you sit down to write your next cover letter, refer to some of the samples I have selected and included in Best Canadian Cover Letters. If a recruiter sees a glaring mistake, it could be enough to eliminate your client from the running.
Most Certified Résumé Strategists find that their clients rarely write an error-free cover letter on their own. Just by having the letter reviewed and edited by a professional, a candidate’s chances of receiving an interview are significantly enhanced.
Sharon Graham is founder and executive director of Career Professionals of Canada. Committed to setting the standard for excellence in the career development profession, Sharon has authored top selling paperback publications and textbooks, and has established a range of certification, professional development, community development, mentoring, and award programs. As executive director of CPC, she provides foresight and leadership within the sector and ensures that the mandate of this national organization is upheld with integrity.