By Jim Wong, CPA | August 21, 2013

Cover letters are tough to write. They have to be brief, but unique. You have to grab an employer’s attention so it also must be compelling. It can help you stand out from the pack or “it can make a promising candidate seem like an uncreative cut-and-paster,” says Seth Porges, contribute to Forbes.

Often cover letters are a regurgitation of what is already on your resume — not something most hiring managers are fond of reading. Can you blame them?

There are an abundance of tips and tutorials, even templates, on cover letter writing, but they aren’t always useful. You could end up looking like one of those uncreative cut-and-pasters. Besides the obvious (use good grammar!), there are a few rules Porges shares for writing a cover letter hiring managers will want to read.

Don’t Repeat Your Resume
Your letter is either stapled or attached to the same email as your resume. So why would you reiterate what’s already there? Your letter is the place to show your personality and interest in the industry/company/field you’re applying to work in.

Porges favorite tip: “Google around for the history of your field or company, and sprinkle some cool historical facts into your cover letter (or even use one as a lead).” For example, “If I were applying for a job in fashion, I might talk about how much fashion has changed since the 80s,” he adds. It shows you are interested and knowledgeable.

Keep it Short
Put yourself in the shoes of the hiring manager — they have a limited amount of time, so make it short and sweet. Porges suggests no more than three paragraphs or half a page. “Skip lengthy exposition and jump right into something juicy,” he adds.

Address Nobody
That is unless you know the name of the person who will read your letter. Porges suggest job seekers skip the generic “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Hiring Manager.”

Send it as a PDF
Sending a PDF gives you more control over how it appears on someone else’s screen. “Not every office computer can read .docx or .pages files, but virtually everybody can open a PDF file without any conversion,” says Porges.

If someone converts your file it could introduce formatting errors or they may not even want to deal with the conversion. Either way, a PDF is the best route to go.

Avoid This Phrase
Porges advises job seekers to avoid saying, “My name is _____, and I am applying for the position as _____.” Why? “They already know this, and you’ll sound inexperienced,” he adds.

Close Strong
Don’t ramble on your closing. Keep it succinct, explain how your experience will help you at the job, and why you are the best person for the position. Porges says if it goes on for more than two seconds, “you’re just rambling.”

A cover letter is a foot in the company door. The goal is to let the hiring manager know who you are and why you are a good fit for not only the job, but also the company. Every word counts so let your personality show.

This article originally appeared on Clear Focus Financial Search.

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