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Written by Charlotte GraingerCharlotte Grainger

The ultimate guide to using cover letter skills in your next application

20 min read
The ultimate guide to using cover letter skills in your next application
Artwork by:Ksenia Stoylik
Looking for a swift way to strengthen your next application? Including some powerful cover letter skills is the answer. Read our complete guide now.

Cover letter writing is an art form. You only have between 300 and 400 words to hook the reader’s attention and leave them wanting more. That can be a daunting prospect. Rather than getting overwhelmed, let’s talk about how you can make your next letter stand out.

While a well-written letter is a good starting point, recruiters are typically looking for more substance from modern-day applicants. Interlacing cover letter skills into the fabric of this document is an effective way to give your application more weight. While you will have already mentioned your skills on your resume, you can add more detail in your cover letter.

Ready to start “wowing” employers? Here at Resume.io, we have everything you need to enhance your ongoing job search from writing guides and resume examples to blog posts. If you need some help when it comes to writing your professional cover letter, we’re here to step in. In the following guide, we will be taking a closer look at these topics: 

  • What cover letter skills are and why they matter
  • The crucial difference between hard skills and soft skills
  • Advice on how to choose the right skills for your cover letter
  • Examples of how to include cover letter skills in your application.

Do you have a case of writer’s block? We’ve all been there! Take a quick look at our short cover letter samples and get those creative juices flowing. 

What are cover letter skills, anyway?

First things first, let’s talk about what cover letter skills are. You don’t have to be Sherlock Holmes to work this one out. Cover letter skills are the talents and unique abilities that you highlight when you are writing your application letter. These are the core competencies that you plan to bring to the role, should you get that all-important final job offer. 

Now, you will have covered your skill set in your resume — there’s the dedicated skills section and room for elaboration within the employment section. Despite this fact, your cover letter shouldn’t be completely devoid of skills. Think of your resume and your cover letter as two sides of the same coin. They should be telling the reader the same story. 

Your cover letter gives you the chance to expand on the skills you have highlighted in your resume. You should ensure that these two parts of your application match. For example, if you have listed “communication” as a skill on your cover letter, you can flesh this out in your cover letter. Throw in an anecdote about a time when you communicated well with the team, for example. Adding this color allows you to illustrate how you use the skill. 

Expert tip

Give hiring managers what they want! 

Hiring managers are increasingly on the lookout for candidates with diverse skill sets. When writing your cover letter, consider the range of talents you already have. 

Use your storytelling skills to weave these abilities into the narrative of your work history. Showcasing the things you have learned in your working life is a smart way to stand out from the crowd. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn here!

Why do cover letter skills matter?

We won’t make any excuses here — the world of recruitment is very competitive. The average corporate job opening receives around 250 applications. When you’re battling that many candidates, you have to do everything in your power to win over the reader. 

Including the right cover letter skills in your application may help you along the way. 

When a hiring manager reviews your application, you want them to have every reason to interview you. If you have a strong resume but your cover letter is a tad uninspiring, it’s unlikely to hit the mark. In the simplest of terms, you have to put in the extra effort here. 

Statistical insight

You only get one chance to make a first impression!

According to a study that used eye-tracking technology, recruiters spend an average of seven seconds reviewing each application. Put simply, you don’t have a load of time to grab their attention and hold it. Make sure that you don’t waste the opportunity. 

While your resume does a lot of the heavy lifting, don’t neglect your cover letter. This is the most freeform part of your application and your only chance to directly address the hiring manager. If you want to give yourself a competitive edge, take the time to include powerful cover letter skills throughout each part of the document. 

Showcasing your skills in your cover letter lets an employer know that you not only possess them but also know how to put them into practice. Since your cover letter is freeform, you can slot the skills in an overarching narrative. That gives context to each of the talents that you have in your arsenal, showing that you know how to use them too!

Colorful bulletpoints with cover letter skills tips
Colorful bullet points with cover letter skills tips

Hard skills vs. soft skills: a quick breakdown

Cover letter skills are non-negotiable. You already know that. But let’s take a moment to talk about the difference between hard skills and soft skills. To show the hiring manager that you are a well-rounded candidate, your cover letter needs to include both of these. If you’re new to the terminology, we’ve got you covered. Here’s a quick breakdown: 

Hard skills 

Hard skills — also known as technical skills — are competencies that apply directly to the job position. Most of the time, you will have honed these skills when you were on the job, at university, or whilst undertaking role-specific training. As such, you will often find that hard skills are listed as “core competencies” within the original job advertisement. 

These skills often relate to specific tasks that are fundamental to the role at hand. For example, if you work in the realm of medical research, you might find that “data analysis” is a hard skill you will need to master. If you don’t have that ability down, you will find it nigh impossible to understand the specific findings of the studies that you carry out.  

When recruiters are reviewing applications, they will likely have a list of “must have” hard skills that they refer to. As a general rule, you want to tick as many of those boxes as possible. The more you include in your application, the more likely you are to land an interview. You can refer back to the original advert to identify some of the key hard skills. 

Expert tip

Looking for some inspiration? We’ve got your back! Here are some hard skills examples that would be appropriate for a wide range of professions: 

  • Google analytics
  • Hubspot knowledge
  • CMS maintenance
  • Data analysis
  • Microsoft Excel skills
  • Data mining
  • Research and reporting
  • Pay-per-click advertising
  • Computer-aided design
  • Machine learning
  • Programming languages

Don’t go cramming all of the above into your next cover letter. You need to have all of the hard skills that you choose for your application and ensure they fit the job position.

Soft skills 

Candidates often leave soft skills off of their applications. However, doing so is a real mistake. These skills apply to a variety of different situations, tasks, and even jobs. Put simply, soft skills help you work alongside other team members. With that in mind, they are often character traits, mindsets, attitudes, and social characteristics that you use each day. 

While your hard skills are the main focus of your application, your soft skills are also important. Should the hiring manager see two candidates with similar competencies, it will be the soft skills that differentiate them. To get started, think about what collaborative skills you have that make your day-to-day job easier than it would otherwise be. 

You may find that the recruiter lists the soft skills they expect in the job description. Before choosing which skills to include in your cover letter, refer back to the original posting. You might find that the hiring manager has specified that they want someone with a “good work ethic” or an “adaptable worker”. Consider how you can show them that you fit the bill here. 

Expert tip

If you have no clue where to start when identifying your soft skills, don’t worry. Take a quick look at some of the main examples that you may use in your next application: 

  • Communication
  • Positive outlook
  • Conflict resolution
  • Self-awareness
  • Collaboration
  • Work ethic
  • Active listening
  • Motivation
  • Engagement
  • Adaptability
  • Resourcefulness

Want to learn more about this topic? Check out our soft skills writing guide, complete with 36 examples that you can use for creative inspiration. 

How to choose your cover letter skills: tips and tricks 

Chances are, you have a skills list as long as your arm. However, you don’t want to pack your cover letter out with every skill that springs to mind. There’s something to be said for being selective. It’s better to opt for a core selection of powerful skills than to throw in a bunch of irrelevant skills. On that note, here are some tips and tricks to help you pick.

1. Take a look at the original job advert 

You might have seen this one coming. When you’re deciding what cover letter skills to include, your first port of call is the job advert. The posting may give you insider information about what the employer is currently looking for. Go old school here — grab a highlighter and pick out any skills the advert specifies. Sprinkle them into your cover letter. 

2. Include a mix of hard and soft skills 

As we have already covered, it’s important to have a mixture of both hard skills and soft skills. When you’re determining which to include in your cover letter, try to keep things as balanced as you can. Think about what hard skills the job demands of you and, equally, which soft skills will make you a stand-out candidate. Slide both of these into the letter.

3. Don’t always go with the obvious choice 

Spoiler: The recruiter will see a wealth of near-identical applications. If you only include the obvious skills here, you are likely to get lost in a sea of applicants. Don’t make that mistake. Wherever possible, try to think outside of the box. Which of your skills make you a unique and interesting candidate? What do you possess that other applicants may not?

4. Avoid being repetitive 

In the next section, we will cover how you can include the skills in your cover letter. However, there’s one last thing that you need to remember. When you’re writing your cover letter, you want to avoid repetition at all costs. Since you should give examples of how and when you used a specific skill, only mention each skill once. For each anecdote that you include in your cover letter, use it as an opportunity to highlight one core skill. 

How do you describe skills in a cover letter? 5 specific examples

Before you set about including skills on your cover letter, keep in mind: you can’t simply list your skill set as part of your cover letter. That won’t wash and will break up the natural flow of the letter. Instead, you need to pepper your paragraphs with your chosen skills. Take a look at these examples: 

Example #1: Communication 

If you’re including communication as one of your cover letter skills, don’t simply say you’re an “excellent communicator”. Prove it. Your writing should have a clear point and you want to avoid any unnecessary fluff. You should also give evidence. For instance, you might recall a time when your communication skills helped you get your job done well. 

Communication

“While working in the sales team, I was responsible for continuously liaising with the buyers and issuing to-the-minute reports. Thanks in part to my clear and speedy communication, we were able to fulfill a high volume of orders each month.”

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Example #2: Critical thinking 

A grand number of jobs will require you to use critical thinking skills. For example, if you work in logistics, you will need to be ready to think on your feet. You may need to problem-solve to avoid any complications. But how can you showcase that core skill when you are writing your cover letter? Take a quick look at our example below.

Critical thinking

“As the project lead, the team relied on my ability to problem solve and think critically to get the job done. For example, on the occasions when we were overwhelmed with new orders, I was responsible for creating a new workflow system. By implementing a more streamlined process, I increased efficiency by 23% during my time in the role.”

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Example #3: Work ethic 

Let’s face it — all employers want staff members with a good work ethic. Once again, this is a case of show don’t tell. Sure, you can write that you have a “great work ethic” but those words are virtually meaningless unless you can back them up. Try highlighting a time when your positive approach to work allowed you to get the best results. 

Work ethic

“I pride myself on always going above and beyond the call of duty. In my position with Grantham Limited, I relished taking on additional tasks to support the team during busy periods. This approach allowed me to ease the strain on my coworkers so that we could all work toward a shared end goal.”

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Example #4: Adaptability 

The modern working world is fast-paced. If you want to get ahead, you need to be able to adapt and change your approach at a moment’s notice. If you’ve got this soft skill down to a tee, you may want to shout about it in your cover letter. Pick a real scenario in which you had to flex your adaptable muscles. By highlighting this, you can flesh out the skill. 

Adaptability

“When the CCPA (California Consumer Privacy Act) came into play in 2018, our marketing team had to completely change tack. Upon learning about the changes, I single-handedly came up with a new way to manage customer data that complied with the legislation. This saved the team a lot of time and energy in the following months.”

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Example #5: Conflict resolution 

Nobody wants to work in a toxic environment. If you’re a pro when it comes to conflict resolution, you should include it as one of your cover letter skills. It’s important to avoid focusing on the negative too much here. While you will want to include an example, you should emphasize the solution that you reached. Take a quick look at our example.

Conflict resolution

“As a customer service rep, I became adept at conflict resolution. In fact, when dealing with dissatisfied clients, I was quickly able to identify their main needs and offer workable solutions. For example, when one specific client was unhappy with how long a product was taking to arrive, I offered them complimentary shipping to compensate for the delay. This move eased the tension and they ended up leaving a positive review.”

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Cover letter tips: 20 ways to make yours work
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Cover letter tips: 20 ways to make yours work

Cover letters are a critical part of the job application process, and yet many struggle with how to write them. The cover letter writing tips in this guide will help you move beyond amateur errors and into the realm of a job-winning professional.

Key takeaways  

  • Recruiters don’t spend long considering candidates and the competition is tough! Including cover letter skills in your application will increase your chance of success.
  • Well-rounded candidates have a better chance of landing the job. Make sure that you include both soft skills and hard skills in the document.
  • Wherever possible, try to illustrate how you use the skills in your cover letter.
  • If you’re unsure where to start, take a look at our specific examples of how to include cover letter skills in your next application.
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