How to Write a Cover Letter That Doesn’t Sound Like Your Resumé

When writing cover letters, it’s natural to draw inspiration from your resumé. The two should sound similar in that they highlight your accomplishments and position you as the right candidate for the job—but they shouldn’t sound identical.

If your cover letter sounds like a copy-and-pasted version of your resumé, you need to revise your approach. Here are tips on how to write a cover letter that stands out in the applicant pool.

Expand on Key Professional Points

Your resumé shouldn’t extend beyond a single page, if you’ve formatted the content properly. That said, you’re not left with a lot of room to dive into deep detail on your past experience and accomplishments—which is where your cover letter comes in.

While you don’t want to simply reiterate the bullet points on your resumé, you do want to highlight what matters most. What makes you uniquely qualified for the role, and how does your skill set align with the job’s key requirements? Address those questions in your cover letter—and get specific. Better yet, tell a story.

Tell a Story

Corporate job openings receive an average 250 resumés. Meaning, if you want to stand out, you need to get creative. Your cover letter is a great place to experiment with storytelling. Ask yourself, “Why do I want this role?”

Is the industry one you’ve fantasized about since you were a starry-eyed teenager? Perhaps you grew up pouring over the magazine you’re now applying to. Or is there something about the organization’s brand that resonates with you? Maybe, over the years, you’ve drawn inspiration from the company’s slogan, such as Nike’s “Just Do It” or Apple’s “Think Different” campaigns.

By starting with an anecdote, you avoid sending what sounds like a canned cover letter, while also spotlighting your personality. Whatever your connection to the company or role, express your passion in a way that’s strategic and shows your familiarity with the company—not eager to the point of sounding disingenuous. Just beware of rambling; stick to the specifics.

Get Specific

Speaking of specifics, cover letters enable you to create a narrative the bullet points of your resumé don’t allow.

Detail your past experience in strong action verbs, such as “negotiated,” “launched,” “managed,” or “trained,” and avoid phrases you also don’t want on your resumé, including “hard worker” or “team player.” Both terms are meaningless unless backed by results. What business goals have you achieved? What role do you play on a team? Get specific.

Also, quantify your achievements when you can. Whether it’s the number of dollars you’ve saved an organization, size of team you’ve managed, or scale of a major project you’ve completed, dive into details to prove you’re results-oriented without needing to explicitly state it.

Cover Core Requirements

Again, you want to pull the key requirements out of the job description and match your experience to the qualifications. What can you bring to the company? How does your experience align? Make it readily apparent why you’re the right fit for the job. Perform additional research to better understand the company’s challenges, culture, and needs, and incorporate any ideas or solutions into your cover letter.

If your experience doesn’t perfectly align, don’t undersell yourself. Focus on your transferable skills instead, such as problem-solving, active listening, conflict resolution, time management, or leadership. It’s likely the projects you worked on or responsibilities you tackled in your last role can be translated to the position you’re applying for.

Other Tips to Consider

When writing your cover letter, there are other final touches you want to consider.

  • Your cover letter and resumé should complement each other, so use similar visual elements on each document, including identical fonts and matching layouts.
  • Address your cover letter to the specific hiring manager, rather than “To Whom It May Concern.” This will help personalize the letter, but also prove you can do your research. If the hiring manager’s name is not clear, consider contacting the company’s human resources department to find the appropriate employee.
  • Recruiters spend only six seconds reviewing an individual resumé, so keep your resumé and cover letter to one page each. Every word counts.
  • Triple check for any spelling or grammatical errors.

Are you looking for more careers-related content? Read more from “The Employer Perspective,” including how to properly reach out to a hiring manager and how to ace your next phone interview.