We recently posted job ads for open positions, and each ad brought in more than 200 applicants. That is a lot of résumés for a small business to go through! That’s why you need to make sure yours gets noticed. Still, of the hundreds of résumés submitted, we were intrigued by at least a fourth of them. How can you stand out in this crowd?

Enter: the cover letter.

While your résumé should be customized for each job, a cover letter can take it a step further by talking directly to your potential employer. I love a good cover letter, and I’m delighted to share what I look for in a standout letter. (Future applicants are invited to cheat off this list.)

Don’t Repeat Your Résumé

You can—and should—highlight especially relevant parts of your résumé, but just repeating how many years of experience or what multitude of degrees you have in your cover letter doesn’t tell us anything new.

Tell Me Why You Want This Job

And I mean THIS job. Take, for instance, this statement from a recent cover letter:

After reviewing your job description, it’s clear that you’re looking for a candidate that is extremely familiar with the responsibilities associated with the role and can perform them confidently.

Well, yes, but that could apply to any job. Give me something to show that you read the job description and know what those responsibilities are, and then use specific examples to tie your experience to the job description. (Note: I give bonus points to applicants who show that they also visited our website.)

Sell Me on What Makes You Unique

Maybe you aren’t totally qualified for the job, but you know you can do it. Or you worry you’ll appear too qualified. Maybe you are looking to pivot your career.

All these things are okay, but they aren’t obvious from your résumé alone. Your cover letter is your opportunity to explain to the potential employer exactly why you’re interested in the job and how your experience and qualifications make you the best choice.

Be Competitive

Remember those 200 applicants for each job? Write your cover letter with the assumption that hundreds of other people—with qualifications similar to your own—are vying for this job. Make it concise, but thorough. Be professional, but show some personality. Draw the conclusion for the reviewer—why are you the best applicant for the job?

Get to the Interview

Ultimately, organizations have a role to fill. They want the applicant who has the most talent and ability, but they recognize that a list of education and accomplishments from a résumé does not tell the full story. Almost more than anything else, organizations want smart people who are excited about working for them. Give your future employer an obvious reason to at least interview you by submitting a stellar cover letter.

In the final blog of our "Get the Job" series, we go over supplemental materials like references and samples.