Simple ways to turn a bad cover letter into a great one

  • cover letters
  • June 07, 2016

Writing a cover letter can be a challenge. That’s why the internet is full of articles (including a few from Randstad) offering suggestions about layout and content. It’s helpful to have these tips to get started, but how do you know if your finished letter is good, and, more importantly, how do you fix a bad letter?

For instance, consider the tone of this cover letter example:

Do you know what’s wrong with this cover letter? Sure, it references education and experience, but it focuses on the applicant’s needs rather than the company’s needs. Using some of our tips to make your cover letter stand out, let’s break down how this letter could be improved.

Grab attention from the start

First impressions really count! Let’s take another look at the opening sentence and see if it sets the right tone.
When I saw this position posted I was very excited because this position is a perfect fit for me.
Yikes! So far, the applicant has mentioned him or herself three times, but has not mentioned any reasons why the employer should be excited. With a slight shift of focus, we can rewrite the opening sentence.
As a professional with XX years of experience in sales and a background in communications, I’d be a strong asset to ABC Sales Company as a Sales Floor Manager.
The new sentence starts by introducing relevant background experience and mentions the target company’s name right away — helping to connect the applicant’s skills to the desired position.

Don’t repeat your resume

Our original letter gets mired in details:
In the past, I’ve worked as a sales associate for 2 years, and then as a sales team leader for 1.5 years before I was promoted to Sales Manager. My duties included answering customer’s questions, making sales add-ons, working with other team members, stocking shelves and working with other sales associates and managers.
Instead of listing job duties, we can strengthen the cover letter by focusing on relevant experiences from this applicant’s past roles:
In the past, I’ve worked as a sales associate, a sales team leader and a sales manager. From these experiences, I have learned to listen carefully to customers’ needs, offer additional services to each customer and communicate effectively with a team of sales associates and managers.

Know your audience

Your prospective hiring manager wants to know why you’d be an asset to the company. The example cover letter has some success in addressing the employer, but ultimately focuses too much on the applicant’s own reasons for applying.
What I enjoy most about sales is working with other people, helping customers and earning commission. I am a great team player, which would be an asset for ABC Sales Company.
I am considered the most persuasive and professional sales associate. You would benefit from having me be a part of your sales team.
To improve this letter, we can shift the focus away from the applicant and frame that candidate’s professional experience with a focus on the company’s needs. Here is one example of how to keep the audience in mind.
My professional philosophy focuses on helping clients, being an expert listener and finding solutions for teams and for customers. My personable, solutions-focused approach makes me a great team player and would make me a strong asset for ABC Sales Company.

Close with a bang

Don’t let your letter fizzle at the end! Our example cover letter ends on the generic note.
Thank you for considering my application. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
While the tone here is professional, it lacks originality and doesn’t suggest any call to action on the hiring manager’s part. An alternative closing could look like this:
I would be delighted to discuss my qualifications to help ABC Sales Company grow and best serve its customers. Please don’t hesitate to reach me at or 555-555-5555. I look forward to hearing from you soon!

Putting these tips to work

We’ve now considered four different ways to revise a standard cover letter to a hiring manager’s attention. By implementing these tips, our final version looks like this:

Much better, right? Strike a professional tone and show you care about your target company to enjoy a shorter and more satisfying job search!
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