You’ve just spent countless hours tailoring, tweaking, cursing, and agonizing over your resume. It’s about as perfect as it can be. And now you’re itching to blast your resume out to every job announcement that you’re qualified for. But before you hit the send button, there’s one more thing to consider: how to write a kick-butt cover letter.

I know what you’re probably thinking: are you kidding me? Now I have to spend more time on my cover letter? Do hiring managers and HR reps even read cover letters?!

The short answer is yes. Please don’t hurt me. Just hear me out.

I’ve spent the last 15 years as a career counselor and coach, networking with hundreds of hiring managers and recruiters across every industry. What I’ve learned is that some of them will never even read your cover letter. But many will. Therefore, it’s best not to take the chance that you might eliminate yourself from the competition because you didn’t spend a few more hours writing a tailored letter.

Okay, so now that we’ve got the painful part over with, let’s talk about how to write a cover letter that stands out. I’ve put together a simple, four-step process to make it easy for you.

First Step in writing a kick butt cover letter: Do some digging

Before you even sit down to start writing a kick-but cover letter, I suggest first spending some time browsing and familiarizing yourself with the organization’s website. Specific items you want to look for: major projects currently underway, anticipated problems, or upcoming changes or transitions the company is facing.

Also try to see if you can get a sense of the company’s culture. For example, does it seem like an organization that values its employees? Depending upon how much information is disclosed on the website, this may or may not be possible. Sometimes you have to wait until the interview to get a good sense of a company’s values and culture.

Step Two: Gather the necessary materials

Such as, your resume, the description of the job for which you are applying, and any research you’ve dug up and printed out about the organization (i.e. recent press releases, product information, mission statement, goals, values, etc.), and a beverage of your choice (happy hour is a great time to sit down and craft a cover letter. Just sayin’)!

Step Three: Make a Connection

Make a connection between your background and accomplishments and the key qualifications the employer is seeking. Similar to what you’ve done on your resume, you want to make it easy for the hiring manager to make the connection between what you have accomplished in your previous roles and what you can contribute to their organization.

To make this easy, I suggest either writing out by hand or typing up a list so you can make the connection between your background and the employer’s “wish list.” Create two columns on a sheet of paper. Title the first column something like “Skills/ Qualifications.” This is where you will list out the major skills, attributes, and work responsibilities from the job description. In the second column, for each qualification or job function you have listed in column one, you will include a skill set or accomplishment from your background.

Step Four: Putting it all together

Your cover letter should be no more than one page, and should include an introduction paragraph, two to three body paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph.

Your introduction should be powerful and well-written. If possible, try not to begin with the standard “I am writing this letter to apply for XYZ position.” If you are applying to a more conservative, corporate type of company or position, beginning by highlighting your biggest accomplishments is probably a good route to take. For example, “My six years of experience editing video, pitching creative ideas, and managing media content makes me an excellent match for the Production Assistant position.”

If you are applying to a smaller company, start-up, or in a creative industry, you can use some more personality and even a little humor (just keep it tasteful). The introduction can often be one of more challenging, if not the most challenging paragraphs to write on your cover letter. Therefore, I recommend waiting until you’ve written the body paragraphs before tackling your intro.

Underneath your introduction, you will write two to three body paragraphs, which can be drawn from the brainstorming sheet you created (or that you will create) from Step Three. Be careful not to just repeat information from your resume, and make sure to go into enough detail. You can use the SOAR method (Situation, Obstacle, Action, Result) to highlight past work accomplishments and to give you a framework for crafting detailed descriptions. Read below for an example of a sentence using the SOAR method:

“The position with XYZ Organization calls for extensive leadership and sales management experience. While working as a sales supervisor at (insert company), I took on numerous responsibilities in the absence of the regional manager, including overseeing a sales region of 20+ accounts, managing a team of ten, and consistently exceeding sales goals by roughly eight percent.”

That leaves us with the conclusion. At this point the worst is behind you. The conclusion paragraph is pretty cut and dry. You can write something along the lines of “Thank you for taking the opportunity to read my application materials. I look forward to discussing my qualifications and skills in more detail in an interview.”

Congratulations!

You’re well on your way to writing a kick-butt cover letter!

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