Using Effective Language in a Cover Letter and Resume

By Ashley Fluellen

Dear Job Seeker,

I think it’s safe to say that applying for a new job isn’t always the most fun experience in the world. Possibly the most stressful aspects of the application process come with the resume and cover letter. These documents carry a lot of weight, as they are often the first impression that your potential employer has of you. You want to make sure that this potential employer sees that you are a good fit for the job, knows you can communicate well through writing, and gets an idea of your personality. This can be difficult, but if you follow the tips laid out below, you’re sure to have that job in a snap.

Tip 1: Reflect the job description

Job descriptions help to create expectations for both the employer and the hopeful employee. You’re most likely applying for positions that match your specific skills and experience, and you want to convey that in your resume and cover letter. Highlight the skills and experiences you have that match what the employer is looking for. For example, if you know a lot about using Photoshop to create digital advertisements, and you’re applying for an advertising position, make that a key point in your skills section. You’re selling yourself as the best person for the job, and the easiest way to do that is to highlight what you know you can do that the job demands.

An important addition to this tip is don’t lie about your experiences and skills in hopes that your resume will get you an interview. If you lie on your resume and get the job, you will undoubtedly come to a point where you’re assigned a task you don’t know how to do—despite it being a required skill in the job description. Don’t put yourself, or your employer, in that position.

Tip 2: Find out “to whom it may concern”

This really isn’t the best way to start your cover letter. Not only does this create an impersonal first impression to your potential manager, but it also makes you seem lazy. If you can’t even do enough research to find out to whom you’re applying, how could they trust you with more significant projects? Look on the company’s website or re-read the job ad to figure out to whom you should address your letter.

Of course, there will be times when no amount of research will give you the name of “whom it may concern.” If you can’t find this information, make sure to include details about the work the company does and why you’re well-suited to it. This is a great way to show that you took the time to do research on the company, even though you were unable to find an addressee for your application materials.

Tip 3: Use purposeful and active language

Nothing is more boring than having to read the same descriptors for different people over and over again. Every employer already assumes you are “very organized” or “a hard worker.” What really packs a punch is rephrasing these words to have more relevant meaning. You can change “I’m very organized” to “I ensure that deadlines are met and the product is free of any errors.” Also, vary the descriptions for your job duties so that you can avoid annoying and unproductive repetition (i.e., don’t say “managed” or “developed” over an over again). Try to be as precise and descriptive without overwriting. Remember, your potential employer will see many applications, so stay concise while you create detailed job descriptions. 

Using active voice makes for a more dynamic cover letter and resume. Using non-helping verbs invokes a sense of action. Employers will appreciate this type of language because it shows that you are someone who is, in a realistic sense, active instead of passive, which can go a long way in any job (check out our previous blog on active and passive voice).

Tip 5: End it with a bang

Cover letters, when done correctly, are meant to get you an interview. So, why not end your letter by simply asking for one? This could seem a bit too bold, but simply ending with an “I look forward to discussing potential interview dates with you soon,” is short, sweet and to the point. Be sure to include contact information here as well, as you want to make it as easy as possible for the person trying to hire you. 

Now that you have written an effective cover letter, all that’s left is to sign!


UWC Consultant


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