Updated: Aug 25, 2019
In the past 12 years I have gained large amounts of experience in job applications. I could probably go as far to say that I have applied for over 1,000 jobs and heard back from 10. That’s a slight exaggeration but regardless of what people say and how you write a cover letter, you still may not receive a reply, this could be due to experience, qualifications, or the employer just doesn’t like the sound of you. Harsh, but true.
A cover letter is still a vital part of an application process though. If you think about it, that’s your pre-interview interview, a real chance to write whatever you want and express yourself to the potential employer and stand out. I have known people that have applied for jobs and skipped adding a cover letter because they wanted quantity over quality, which is never a good thing. If you don’t put the effort in applying for a job then wonder why you never hear anything, skipping the cover letter is a good place to start. A cover letter demonstrates that you have put the effort into learning about the company, you have read about the position, you are not lazy, and you are genuinely interested in that position.
Why is a cover letter more important for remote jobs?
In 95% of circumstances, you will never meet your employer with a remote job. I have worked for one company for 9 months now and I have never heard my bosses voice. As you don’t get the chance to meet your employer face to face, you have to express yourself even more in writing, which is where the cover letter comes in.
It’s worth noting that simply copy and pasting a template of a cover letter is not going to cut it. I am not saying it will never work but most employers can see that you have used a template and will instantly throw you in the “no” pile, as it shows you are lazy. I believe that a cover letter is more important for a remote job application than a normal job application.
What You Shouldn't do
Don’t try and “optimize” your cover letter.
I have genuinely come across people before that have tried to optimize their cover letter for search engines. I am going with the thought that they really didn’t understand what SEO was and how it worked, but who knows. So please don’t try and fit ranking keywords into your cover letter. You should however use “keywords” from the job description which I will touch on further down.
Write One Sentence.
Some people will read the instructions and see that it says minimum 100 words, then they will write 101 words and submit the cover letter. If anything this just wastes your time which you will never get back. You should put effort into it, after all you are applying for the job because you want it, I presume.
Write nothing at all.
Unfortunately there are many people out there that still choose to ignore the cover letter box. I know that there are some applications that say “optional” but that still doesn’t mean you should ignore it. Even if the application requires a mandatory cover letter, attaching a blank word doc or putting a few spaces in the cover letter box will get you nowhere in life.
Write an Essay.
There is also such a thing as writing too much. You should never write more than a page for a cover letter. Employers will take one look at how much text there is and will not even bother to read it. I know this because I used to shortlist and schedule interviews with candidates.
Submit without reading it over.
You should always read over everything in life whether it’s a contract, an article, or a cover letter. Double checking yourself will help capture any mistakes and avoid you looking silly to your potential employer.
Use a template.
As mentioned, you should never use a template for a cover letter. Especially if it’s one from the internet. Employers can tell that you have used a template and it comes across as lazy. If you write a paragraph about your personal skills, you can copy something like that but still, make sure that you tailor it to the job you apply for.
Don’t use “I” in every sentence.
I really don’t think that when I write a cover letter I should be using the letter I because I think that it’s unprofessional and I will probably not succeed if I do that. It sounds terrible doesn’t it? There are better ways to write professionally that don’t require you to write “I” a thousand times.
Play around with words a bit and see what sounds good. Just make sure it sounds good.
Don’t use comedy or humor UNLESS the application states so.
Just because you are a comedian and your workplace might love you, writing in a comedic way when writing a cover letter can come across as unprofessional and arrogant. You should stick to a business professional style of writing unless the application states to.
I have applied for some jobs before, mainly start-up companies, that have specifically said not to bother with a standard cover letter, be yourself, and make us laugh. In this case, it is absolutely fine to write how you want. The employers are more than likely trying to find a team member that will fit into the team.
Don’t list all the stuff in your Resume.
Your resume is the place for work history, skills, and references. There is no reason for you to duplicate this information into your cover letter OR copy and paste it in. You can write about two or three of your main skills but tie them to a job requirement, don’t just list your skills.
What should you do
Read the job description.
The job description is like the instruction manual for a cover letter and you should read every part. I have seen descriptions that have put test questions in the middle of text and some that put deliberate mistakes for you spot. You should use the job description as a basis for your cover letter, pulling on “what we're looking for” and “what we do” sections. If you try and write a cover letter without referring to a job description, it will likely take you 3 times longer and contain no relevant information for the employer.
As mentioned previously, I don’t mean ranking keywords for SEO. I am talking about keywords that are in the job description. An example is when you read a description that has a list of bullet points asking for a good communicator, ability to multi-task, must know how to use Slack, those will be some of your keywords. You will write a paragraph defining that you poses the skills from those keywords and what experience you have to back it up, those words will also stand out to the employer because it’s what they are looking for.
It’s important not to use every single word from the job description but the ones that most apply to the job. They are usually separated into sections and will sometimes be called “minimum requirements” or “our ideal candidate”. A useful tip is to write the keywords at the top of your cover letter so you don’t forget to add them in.
Use a name.
Wherever possible you should always try and address the cover letter to a person. It’s not always possible to do so, and if you cannot find a name then you can address it professionally with “To whom it may concern” or any other title. But one thing that will make you stand out a bit more is if you actually do a bit of research to find out the hiring manager's name. Search the company online and LinkedIn for example, if you find the name then you should use it, but only if you are certain. You should be careful that you don’t write the name of a hiring manager that left the company 4 years ago!
Another thing you should always do is make sure that you sign off with your name at the end of the cover letter. It should be your first and last name and should always be signed off professionally with “kind regards” or any other sign off term.
Write one page.
The perfect length of a cover letter is around 1 page with 3 to 4 paragraphs. This gives you enough space to implement all of the necessary points you need to make without making it too long to read or to short to make a difference. If you find that you have written to little, go back through and pick up on a sentence where you mention a skill or quality you possess, then expand on it a little more. If you have written too much then equally go back over and see if there are any points you have made where you have maybe written too much. Condense that down by keeping the most relevant information in the sentence.
Make it personal to each job description.
This ties in with not using a template but you should always make each cover letter unique and related to the job description. For example:
A job description asks for someone that is excellent on phone sales:
Wrong: I have excelled in sales throughout my years of experience.
Right: Whilst working at ….. I gained exposure and experience to over the phone sales which enabled me to enhance my communication and develop my sales skills even further.
You should look at each description and just make sure you are always referring specifically to the position mentioned, don’t talk in general. UNLESS you don’t have any experience for that job, in which case I would recommend not applying.
Show that you're interested.
There is nothing wrong with declaring your interest in working for a company but you shouldn’t overdo it by writing something like:
I have dreamed my whole life of working for this amazing company, every day I check the website and social media for the chance of a job, please give me this chance…. Etc.
It just comes across as desperate. I have read cover letters like that when hiring before and it is more comical than serious. You should be subtle and just write a sentence or so stating something like:
“working for (company) has always been of great interest to me as it will help to enhance and develop my career by providing opportunity through .. (this is your chance to add something about the company - training programs they are known for, career ladders, anything that appeals to you).
Show that you know something about the company.
With any job application/cover letter/interview you should research the company as much as you can. The internet has everything you could need and if there is something you can’t find, don’t hesitate to reach out to the company by email or LinkedIn. When writing your cover letter, you can write a few lines about how your skills would benefit the company and how you fit in to the company. One of the main points you can pull on is the company’s mission statement or core values, this will show you've searched them and that you fit in to the guidelines of what they are looking for. Otherwise use information from the job description and internet to include in your cover letter. It could be something as simple as turning something like “I am an excellent communicator” into “I am an excellent communicator which would benefit (company) as I understand the main focus of the business is communication with customers and throughout the team”. I am obviously just making something up but when you actually write a cover letter it will make more sense and sound more professional than that.
Use a good structure/format.
I have seen cover letters that have been so poorly written, I haven’t even bothered reading them. If you write everything in one huge paragraph or 700 separate paragraphs, it will probably get ignored. Also, don’t bother with all the fancy editing trying to make your cover letter look like an invitation to the White House, it’s not necessary.
An ideal format that I like to go with is as follows:
Paragraph one - What the job is and why your applying
Paragraph two - What skills you have to give the company
Paragraph three - Why should they pick you
Paragraph four - Close with a brief overview of everything
I welcome you to contact me via the contact methods above with any questions or to discuss my skills further.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Your format will be different depending on how you want to write your cover letter, that’s how I would write mine though. It is clear and concise, separates key sections to make it easier to read, and allows you to clarify the key information you needed to include.
Include your contact details.
You should always include your contact details in a cover letter, it’s up to you which ones but I leave my “business” address (because this is for remote jobs) phone number, and email address. You might be wondering why you need to do this. The first reason is because of technology. While you have forms to fill out online, if you accidentally put the wrong contact details or the form doesn’t work on the employers end, they still have a means of contacting you.
The second reason, as a previous employer, it makes it more accessible to contact a candidate you really like or if you do have any questions. So I would always recommend leaving those details.
Use the name of the position.
Always include the name of the position you are applying for. Sometimes a company can have 5-6 job openings with very similar titles. While it is the companies responsibility to manage these correctly, you can avoid being missed by including the job title. It also shows again that you have read the description and understand the title of your job.
It goes without saying that you should always proofread your writing to check for mistakes. I have been writing for over a year now and even when proofreading 3-4 times I will still leave basic mistakes in grammar. Another tip I can give is that if you are applying for an American job from the rest of the world or vice a versa, write in the grammatical style of that country. For example color or colour, whilst or while, different countries have different ways of writing. I am qualified as an English teacher so use English spelling and grammar but write for the American market. It will just give you the edge a little.
You also might discover sentences that don’t make sense and you need to re-write them, or include important key points.
Proofread again and read aloud.
If you make any changes then proofread again because you could have made mistakes on those changes too! Read your cover letter out loud because this enables you to hear the sentence structure and understand how the employer will perceive the text.
Hopefully some of these tips will help you when applying for remote jobs. I have applied for hundreds and have a business degree to backup my tips. There is not magic formula though and sometimes even with the best cover letter you have ever written, you will still never hear back.
Don’t get disheartened by it because it's obviously just not meant to be.
I am working on another article that will go through a cover letter that I have written previously to give you even more of an idea, so stay tuned.
Any questions please let me know.