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8 in 10 HR pros say your cover letter is critical: These tips make writing one painless

In a sea of resumes that are similar to one another, cover letters frequently help to get applicants noticed. Here's how to write one that will stand out.

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Focusing on her cover letter is what helped Alicia Tan, 26, land her internship at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. At least, that's what her future manager implied when she went in for her interview.

"I was told that my cover letter is what got me noticed," she says.

Tan had held internships at the website Mashable and a small art gallery on the weekends but had never worked at a large museum. 

"The editorial director at the publications department of MoMA said he could tell by my letter that I had 'a mind'," she says. "I understood him to mean that I showed I could think and write critically and passionately about art and its meaning, role, and value." 

Cover letters frequently get applicants noticed in a sea of resumes that are similar to one another, Alison Green of the column Ask a Manager told Grow. "I regularly hear from people who started getting a lot more interviews after they revamped their cover letters," she said. 

In fact, a whopping 83% of recruiters, hiring managers, and HR staff say cover letters are an important part of their hiring decisions, according to a Resume Lab survey of 200 HR professionals. 

If you're job hunting but not hearing back from as many places as you'd like, you might want to spruce up your cover letter. Here are three expert hacks that make writing a cover letter a little bit easier. 

Get inspiration from past performance reviews 

The hardest part about writing a cover letter can be getting started. This is especially true if you suffer from imposter syndrome or often feel unqualified for a job despite evidence to the contrary.

To make things easier, Bernadette Joy, an entrepreneur and debt counselor, suggests looking at compliments other people have given you. "Read positive comments you've gotten on past performance reviews or compliments you've gotten at work as a starting point for what you want to highlight," she says. 

Reading positive feedback can bolster your confidence and offer a springboard from which you can launch into more personal anecdotes

Read positive comments you've gotten on past performance reviews or compliments you've gotten at work as a starting point for what you want to highlight.
Bernadette Joy
Entrepreneur

It also helps to remember the hiring process does not necessarily favor those who have more qualifications over those who have fewer. The most common reason both men and women don't apply for a job they don't have the qualifications for is that they didn't believe they would get hired — not because they didn't believe they could do the job, according to a 2014 Harvard Business Review survey

"What held them back from applying was not a mistaken perception about themselves, but a mistaken perception about the hiring process," according to the report

A cover letter offers you a chance to highlight skills your resume might not mention. And reading compliments from a previous manager might better help you to see why you are qualified for a position, even if you don't have every single skill the listing calls for.

Write your cover letter in third person

We are often more comfortable talking up our friends than talking up ourselves. That's why writing a cover letter in the third person might feel a little easier, says Chloe Angyal, a contributing editor at MarieClaire.com who has used this method to apply for jobs for the last five years. 

"Like a lot of women, I've been taught that speaking honestly about my abilities and accomplishments is bragging, and that bragging is unbecoming," she says. "But I wouldn't hesitate to rave, truthfully, about my friend or mentee if she were applying for a job I knew she'd absolutely crush." 

Like a lot of women, I've been taught that speaking honestly about my abilities and accomplishments is bragging, and that bragging is unbecoming.
Chloe Angyal
Contributing editor at MarieClaire.com

Removing herself from the equation, she says, made the writing process a bit easier during her last job hunt. "I'd look at the cover letter when it was in the third person and think, 'Wow, this Chloe person sounds super-qualified.'" 

However, this doesn't mean you should apply for jobs that aren't in your field or don't make sense with your background, she says. "It's not about applying for things you have no business applying for, because humility is essential, but there's a difference between humility and modesty," she says. "And the job application process is not the time for modesty." 

Switch back to first person once you're done writing the letter, though, Angyal says: "Don't forget to change 'she' to 'I' before you hit 'send.'"

Read it out loud before pressing 'send'

Reading your cover letter out loud can help you identify any clunky language that you might skim over if you were to just read it in your head. "If it sounds awkward when you hear it, it probably looks awkward to someone reading it," Joy says.

And if you are not even a little bit passionate about what your cover letter says, that should give you pause, Tan says. 

If it sounds awkward when you hear it, it probably looks awkward to someone reading it.
Bernadette Joy
Entrepreneur

"I think if you don't feel excited to write a cover letter about why you want this job and why you're right for it, it may be a sign of whether you really want this role or not," Tan says.

Although not everyone has the benefit of always applying to their dream job, focusing on your cover letter can be a good way to gauge not only what you offer the employer, but also what you want to get out of a job, Tan says. 

"Even if I'm applying to something for the sake of applying, I really try to give each cover letter the attention it deserves, and what I deserve." 

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