4 elements of a strong cover letter

It can be overwhelming to write a personalized cover letter to every, single job you're applying to. There could be dozens of submissions, so you're sitting at your desk hunched over struggling to make edits that will set you apart from the others in the stack. And then when we come across the delightful surprise of when the cover letter is optional -- oh boy! -- you perk up like a puppy who smells the waft of delicious treats.

I'm here to tell you, don't get too excited. While you may want to opt out of submitting that optional cover letter, use it to your advantage.

Cover letters allow you the space to craft a narrative of who you are while also proving how you align with a company's mission or values. Instead of punchy bullet-point wording like on a resume, a cover letter enables you to contextualize key elements of your work experience.

Cover letters allow you the space to craft a narrative of who you are while also proving how you align with a company's mission or values.

Beyond making a clear connection for how you are right for the job, get creative in showcasing your personality in your cover letter. We can't forget that HR professionals and recruiters read hundreds -- if not thousands -- of applications, so standing out by painting a clear picture of how you are a good fit to the company in both work ethic and culture is a big gold star.

So what are the four elements that every cover letter should have?

1. Captivating Opener

Find that connection between you and the work/mission of the company to which you are applying. Start by establishing clearly that you align with what the company stands for. That could mean starting with a short anecdote (1-2 sentences) by sharing the first time you used that company's product or how a specific business move the company executed made you think differently. Make it personal. Make it funny. Whatever method you choose, make it memorable.

2. Tee It Up

End your first paragraph with a clear statement for why you think you're the best for the job. State the job that you're applying for and the qualities you possess that would take this position to the next level.

3. Prove Yourself

After you've made the bold statement that you are the best for the job, prove it. Identify the most important character and skill traits needed for the position and marry them with your biggest accomplishments in your previous experience. It's your job to now show why you have what it takes to excel in this role.

4. Always Bring It Back To The Company

I hate to break it to you, but no one cares what you did for any other company. You've got to always tie in how your past experiences can impact the company you are applying to. That means that you need to do some research. Read some of the latest press on their website. Google recent news articles about the company. Identify the problems that the company needs help solving and show how you can be part of the team that helps execute solutions.

Just like we learn in elementary and middle school, it doesn't hurt to start with a casual outline. What are the worker-bee traits you want to highlight? What are the couple of stories you want to feature that align with the experience needed? Jot them down in a couple of bullet points before you start writing to give yourself structure as you put that pen-to-paper -- well, these days it's more like click-to-keyboard.

Sarah Sax is the Founder of Write For The Job.

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