All Things Upwork
September 23, 2008 by Orie Zaklad

There are thousands of ways you can ruin a cover letter. Buyers often have to weed through a list of 30 or 50 or 100 candidates. Every little detail that’s off irritates the person who reads your cover letter. It’s your first — and perhaps only — chance to impress a potential buyer. Mess up and you’ll be immediately crossed off the list. Providers who understand this harsh reality can use it in their favor. Want to write more refined and effective cover letters? Follow these tips to help your letter stand out from the crowd (in a good way)!

  • Keep it short. If your cover letter is as long as this essay, cut it by at least a third. All the buyer wants to see is a polite greeting, a sentence or two summarizing your profile’s relevant highlights, and perhaps another sentence or two about things that don’t show up on the profile — you recently completed two projects similar to the job at hand, for instance. Then a polite closing.
  • Follow directions. If you’re asked to answer specific questions or include a key word in your reply — do it! Beware of typos: Write in word processor, heed the spelling & grammar checks, and read your letter out loud. Try asking a friend to review it before you send it in — even native speakers will benefit from the feedback.
  • Never use a canned cover letter. Buyers can tell. The right few hundred words will prove you read the entire job post, including the requested skills, links, and oDesk work history.
  • Watch your tone. Even if the buyer writes in a casual voice, you should sound serious, yet relaxed. This is a letter from one professional to another. Don’t be funny, wordy or overly flattering. Be helpful and confident, not arrogant, and especially not needy.
  • Easy on the jargon. Use technical terms correctly and cut the marketing-speak. The buyer won’t be impressed by your plans to “actualize” your “proven potential” to “deliver maximal results” to “drive customer satisfaction.” Contrary to some job-hunting guides, you cannot hypnotize the buyer with “energizing” buzz words.
  • Link to examples. List and link to or attach work samples to demonstrate your aptitude for the job. If your profile portfolio doesn’t already include the relevant items, don’t forget to add them afterwards!

You’ve worked hard to polish your profile. But the buyer will never bother to look at it unless your cover letter serves as a concise, effective teaser. If Hollywood can boil a two-hour movie down to a 90-second preview, you can get your cover letter under 300 words and manage to leave your audience wanting more.

Orie Zaklad

Co-Founder and Head of Marketing at The Marc Lavry Heritage Foundation

Orie Zaklad is the Co-Founder and Head of Marketing at The Marc Lavry Heritage Foundation. He formerly served as Senior Marketing Manager at oDesk.