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The modern cover letter serves an extension of your resume. While these documents used to be more formal in nature, recent trends indicate that most hiring managers and employers prefer a cover letter that takes a more conversational approach. Taking that mindset and combining it with brevity, sharpness and a clear focus will help you write a winning cover letter every time.

Don’t Focus on Aesthetics or Design

Don’t get hung up on the design aesthetics of your cover letter. Even your resume benefits from some amount of simplicity – so there’s no need to get fancy here. Avoid complicated fonts, borders or too much formatting of any kind. Instead, spend your time convincing the reader of your skills and attributes.

Emphasize Your Excitement and Sincerity

Try to write your cover letter in a fast-paced, excited tone. Avoid monotonous or dull-sounding language whenever possible and avoid any sort of negative language. Bad-mouthing an ex-boss or company is a huge no-no and raises immediate red flags among hiring managers.

You’ll also want to avoid filling your cover letter with too many buzzwords. While some keywords are useful, especially with today’s applicant tracking systems, these are usually more beneficial on your resume. Not only do they come across as stale and generic – which makes it hard to maintain a conversational approach – but it’s often the sign of a lazy, unmotivated writer.

Highlight Specific Strengths

The bulk of your cover letter should focus on recent and relevant strengths or accomplishments. As a general rule of thumb, avoid highlighting any experience that is over 10 or 15 years in the past. Not only does this set you up for age discrimination in the workplace, it takes the focus away from your most recent contributions.

Regardless of the exact approach you choose, make sure the achievements and skills you highlight are relevant to the job in question. It’s easy to make one generic cover letter and attach it to every resume you send – but this seldom yields the best opportunities.

Instead, take some time to customize the letter and point out the strengths or skills that are most useful to each employer. Some even use a cover letter template and simply fill in the details for each job. The hiring manager or employer will never know you were working from a template and you still get the benefit of focusing on specific, valuable skills.

Use the Cover Letter to Your Advantage

The ideal cover letter provides an introduction to your skill set and past accomplishments while drawing the reader’s attention toward your resume. As such, it’s critical your letter maintains a clear focus at all times. The strategies outlined above will help your cover letter tremendously, but landing a job still comes down to your self-confidence, your overall skill set and your level of dedication.

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