Cover Letters: How to Navigate Conflicting Advice

One of the most frustrating aspects of searching for new employment is the amount of conflicting advice you will get, both from friends and family and from the experts online. There’s a good reason for that – nothing you do, in your resume, cover letter, interview, phone calls, etc., is 100% foolproof. What works for one applicant may not work for another. When it comes to appealing to a potential employer, it’s really all about the luck of the draw.

Your cover letter can be especially disheartening. The cover letter is generally seen as your “first impression” with your potential employer, making it high-stakes. However, instructions on how to write one can be contradictory: stand out, but don’t be unprofessional; write well, but simply because no one is going to take that long to read it. It’s a fine line, and one that makes you want to pull your hair out. But before you give up and throw your computer across the room, we’ve compiled a few pieces of advice that all the experts seem to agree on.

The Body of Your Cover Letter

In the first paragraph, explain which position you are interested in. Do not copy and paste the job description from wherever you found it, but do leave in relevant keywords. Include the name of the company. If you have a mutual acquaintance or know someone within the company, that information should definitely be in your very first line. You absolutely must do your research on this position and the company before writing the letter – include anything that you liked in your findings.

The next paragraph should be a quick summary of your career. Don’t copy it directly from your resume, but do reference your resume to motivate the reader to look at that next. This paragraph should be tailored to the position that you are applying for.

The third paragraph can go deeper into your specific accomplishments, particularly the ones relevant to this job. Start with your most notable one.

What the Experts Agree On:

  • Your cover letter should be on the shorter side. Employers don’t have much time and they generally have an overload of applications. They might scan yours for 30 seconds, so make it short and sweet.
  • You should be formal, but not stiff. Use professional language, but don’t use awkward phrasings that come across as unnatural. Avoid cliché phrases at all costs.
  • You absolutely must research the company first. The more you know about the company, the more you will stand out – and you’ll be better prepared for an interview.
  • Sell yourself. Writing about yourself is hard, but so, so necessary. If you aren’t advocating for yourself in your cover letter, then what’s the point?
  • Don’t use an automated form with your personal details filled in. This lacks creativity and personality. You won’t stand out with one of these.
  • Tailor your cover letter for each new application. You need to include details about the position you are applying for and why the company appeals to you; you should also specify which of your achievements would help you excel in this position.

Other Pieces of Advice Some Experts Have Recommended:

  • Use a relevant story to demonstrate your skills.
  • Use conversational language to show who you are as a person.
  • Rewrite your cover letter for each new job application.
  • Include wacky phrases or tidbits to make yourself memorable.
  • Use bullet points when writing about your accomplishments.
  • End the letter with a promise to follow-up in a few days.


With these pieces of advice, it’s important to keep in mind your industry and the corporate culture of the company you wish to work for. For example, many tech companies have introduced a more laidback working atmosphere with younger employees – your creativity and quirks might be appreciated more there than a company that is more traditionally professional. If you look for cover letter examples, do your best to find ones that are relevant to your industry and profession. And if you do your research on the company before you apply, you should get a good idea of what their corporate culture is. To sum up: none of these tips are necessarily bad advice, but they should be used with some level of caution.


What cover letter advice has worked for you? What pieces of advice have been huge flops? Let us know in the comments.


Dachis, Adam. “How to Write a Cover Letter That Employers Will Actually Read.” (10 April 2014).

Adams, Susan. “How To Write A Cover Letter.” (10 April 2014).

Goldstein, Katherine. “I’ve Read 500 Cover Letters for Entry-Level Media Jobs.” (10 April 2014).

Green, Alison. “How to Write a Cover Letter That Will Get You an Interview.” (10 April 2014).