How to Set Your Cover Letter Apart

It’s not uncommon going above and beyond to meticulously craft your resume. You’ll conduct research online, meet with your campus career services for feedback, and have multiple sets of eyes scour the page before sending it out to employers. But when it comes to cover letters? Most of us are just straight up confused.

In order to unlock the mystery of this essential career document, we enlisted the help of some experts:

Emily Liou, Career Coach and Founder at CultiVitae
Ali O’Reilly, Career Coach at University of Northwestern – St. Paul and Career Contessa
Alyse Kalish, Career Writer & Editor at

Let’s take a look at their best cover letter tips below.

Always write one.

“Even if the organization doesn’t ask for one, always write a cover letter. In a survey by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), 41% of employers said a cover letter tailored to the job was “very important” and 28% said it was “important”. Those numbers are too high to risk not writing one!” – Ali O’Reilly



Stay away from generic greetings.

“Don’t write ‘Dear Hiring Manager’. It only takes a few minutes to conduct a search on LinkedIn to find out the HR Manager or Recruiting Manager or Hiring Manager’s name and exact title on LinkedIn. Alternatively, if no information pulls up, it takes only a minute to call the headquarters and explain to the receptionist you’re writing a cover letter for a position and would like to know who to make the cover letter out to.” – Emily Liou

“Always, always, always refer to the hiring manager’s name, not ‘To Whom it May Concern.’ It’s such an easy way to show that you did your research, show you care about making a good impression, and grab the hiring manager’s attention from the beginning. Even if you’re not sure, figure out who works in HR or is hiring for the role and put their name down. Plus, it makes you look immediately more professional—I can easily tell when a college student is applying when they refer to me as ‘Dear Sir or Madam.'” – Alyse Kalish


Make it about the company, not just you. 

“I recently hired for a marketing intern and not a single cover letter could explain what about my company’s mission, products, or services inspired, motivated, or aligned with them. Companies want to know you are invested in helping them grow and you actually want to be there. A great way to demonstrate this is by starting a cover letter about the company, not about yourself. Out of the tens of thousands of matching jobs out there, why is this the company you hope to be selected for?” – Emily Liou


Use it to tell a story.

“Your resume tells the recruiter facts, your cover letter paints a story. Use your cover letter to explain who you are, why you like the organization, and what you bring to the table. While you can reference your resume, don’t just copy it! The cover letter gives you a unique chance to explain your ‘why’, whereas the resume is your ‘where’ and ‘what’.” – Ali O’Reilly



Keep it short and concise.

“Keep your cover letter short and concise. Many people have a tendency to ramble. Rather than cover everything you’ve done, pick 2-3 experiences you’re most proud of and show you have the skills and passion for this specific role. And show the impact you made, not the day-to-day responsibilities you completed. Hiring managers want to see that you contributed to a bigger goal and the ‘why’ behind your work.” – Alyse Kalish


Don’t be afraid to get creative. 

“Have fun with it! Hiring managers read so many cover letters every day—there’s no better way to grab their attention than by starting out with a funny line or a quick story about a recent trip you took that spurred your passion for your field. Just make sure you’re keeping it professional and still including all the elements of a good cover letter (their name, your experiences and skills, your passion for the role and company).” – Alyse Kalish

“There is nothing wrong with the typical 3-4 paragraph format, but I am always pulled in by candidates that try something new. For example, I saw a candidate that chose three of the key qualifications in the job description and addressed them in a bullet point fashion with stories. That caught my attention and made me want to know more.” – Ali O’Reilly


Always triple check for spelling and grammar mistakes.

“I have edited cover letters for technical writers and found spelling and grammar mistakes! Don’t give the recruiter a reason to question your writing skills – especially if you are in the writing field! Make sure you have at least two people look at it before you send it in.” – Ali O’Reilly

Do you have any more cover letter questions? Drop them in the comments below!


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