Ah, writing the dreaded cover letter. The vital piece of the job hunt that almost no one enjoys. How can you possibly convey to an employer the depths of your awesomeness in just one page? Or, more importantly, what can you write to keep the reader engaged for the minute plus it takes to skim through one?
While writing great cover letters takes effort and practice, it’s imperative that you get that practice by a) including a cover letter with each application, and b) changing it for each job. No two jobs are exactly alike and therefore your cover letters should not be either. By tailoring your letter to the job you demonstrate to the reader both your understanding of the position as well as your desire to fill it. Speaking of the reader, always remember to address the letter to a specific person. Call the company, or check LinkedIn or the company site to avoid a generic greeting.
As a career coach, I always tell my clients that the key to writing a powerful cover letter is perspective. You have to put yourself in the position of the reader and think about what the employer needs to see in order to prove your value in the role. While you are writing, always keep this perspective in mind. Use the job description, both in terms of style and content, as well as other research on the company and position to suss out exactly why you are the perfect candidate. The following outline will make sure your cover letter actually contains this pertinent info:
1. First (short) paragraph–WHO are you?
This paragraph should grab the reader’s attention and announce your qualifications right away, e.g. “As a curator with over 10 years of experience building, producing, and executing art shows for my own gallery, I was inspired to see the MOMA’s posting for [X] position.” If a specific person referred you, make sure to drop her/his name in the first line. Getting a personal reference is the most important way to assure that your letter (and attached resume) will be read. This paragraph contains a quick sentence or two summing up your elevator pitch, e.g., “My extensive management training combined with a strong sales track record will allow me to immediately add value to your team.”
2. Second (longer) paragraph-WHY this job/company?
Here’s where you tailor the letter to demonstrate that you know why you want this particular position. Most job applicants skip this part completely! No employer will hire someone who can’t articulate what makes the job desirable, e.g., “Working as an engineer for [your company] would provide the exciting opportunity to innovate in a staid industry.” If you don’t express why you’re applying for this specific job, the letter will seem formulaic and have less of an impact. Even if you’re perfectly qualified for the position, the reader wants to see why YOU want this job. Explain to the employer how this job is suited for you as well as vice versa.
Do your research on the company and the particular role offered. Glassdoor and LinkedIn are helpful resources for research, but also read articles, talk to your network, and do your due diligence. This also ensures that you don’t waste your time applying to a job you never wanted in the first place.
3. Third (longest) paragraph-WHAT makes you a good candidate?
The real meat of the letter is in this paragraph, which communicates why you’re the best fit for the role. Remember the adage about writing, “show, don’t tell”? This portion is the perfect application of it. Instead of just listing your accomplishments, SHOW that you understand and appreciate the intricacies of the position by giving specific, translatable examples from your prior work. Something like, “By designing and orchestrating [x company’s] social media relaunch, I increased user engagement by [X] percent and drove traffic up by [X] page views. Some ideas I had for [your company’s] brand redevelopment include….”
Before you get started on this section spend some time carefully reading through the job description as well as any other ancillary research you’ve compiled on the employer and the job. Sometimes even highlighting the description line by line and taking notes about your correlating experience can be a productive starting point. Be sure to include the key terms mentioned in the listing.
4. Fourth (shortest) paragraph-SALUTATIONS and follow up details
The final section is where you summarize your qualifications, e.g., “Throughout my career, I have taken on diverse challenges and proven my ability to deliver positive results. I would be thrilled to further discuss the possibility of doing the same at [X].” In addition, be sure to offer references or other materials, state that you look forward to hearing from the company.
Now, about those resumes…
This article was originally published on GoGirl Finance.
Photo: markusspiske / Pixabay
It’s a good time to be a job seeker: U.S. job growth is strong, unemployment is on a steady decline, and openings are at an all-time high.
That doesn’t make the search any less daunting. Differentiating yourself from every other job seeker on the market is no small feat, and the monotony of filling out online applications can make the task downright exhausting. That’s where a killer cover letter comes in.
Done right, a great cover letter is like a secret weapon for catching a hiring manager’s attention. Next to your resume, it’s one of the most important, underutilized tools at your disposal.
Here are some cover letter writing tips, and a free, downloadable template, to make yours stand out.
Every cover letter you write should be tailored to the job you’re applying for — just like your resume. Study the job posting carefully, and make a quick list of any essential qualifications.
“Job seekers really struggle with what to say on a cover letter,” says Jessica Holbrook Hernandez, President and CEO of Great Resumes Fast. “Taking a second to think about why you’re applying, and why you’re a good fit for the company, makes the process a lot easier.”
If you’re adding a cover letter to an online application, use a business letter format with a header and contact information. If you’re sending an email, it’s OK to leave out the header, but be sure to provide a phone number (and an attached resume, of course). Make sure you’re clear about the position you’re applying for.
Avoid nameless salutations — it might take a little Google research, and some LinkedIn outreach, but finding the actual name of the position’s hiring manager will score you major brownie points. “Do not start a cover letter with, ‘to whom it may concern,’” Holbrook Hernandez says. “It concerns no one.”
2. Tell a Story
To grab a recruiter’s attention, a good narrative—with a killer opening line—is everything.
“The cover letter is a story,” says Satjot Sawhney, a resume and career strategist with Loft Resumes. “What is the most interesting thing you’re doing that’s relevant to this job?” Use that to guide your letter.
Ideally, the story that drives your resume will focus on a need at the company you’re applying for. If you’re a PR professional, maybe you have a list of clients in an industry the team wants to break into. If you’re in marketing, a successful promotional campaign might be the ticket in. “A hiring manager wants to see results-driven accomplishments with a past employer,” says Holbrook Hernandez. “If you’ve done it before, you can deliver it again.”
If you have a career gap or are switching industries, address it upfront. “If there’s anything unique in your career history, call that out in the beginning,” says professional resume writer Brooke Shipbaugh.
(Here’s a downloadable sample.)
3. Use Bullet Points to Show Impact
Hiring managers are usually slammed with applications, so short, quick cover letters are preferable to bloated ones, says Paul Wolfe, Senior Vice President of human resources at job site Indeed.
“Make your cover letter a brief, bright reference tool,” he says. “The easier you can make it on the recruiter the better.”
Bullet points are a good tool for pulling out numbers-driven results. Job seekers in creative fields like art and design can use bullets to break down their most successful project. Those in more traditional roles (like the one in the template), can hammer off two or three of their most impressive accomplishments.
4. Highlight Culture Fit
It’s often overlooked, but a major function of the cover letter is to show a company how well you’d mesh with the culture.
As you research a potential employer, look for culture cues on the company website, social media, and review sites like Glassdoor. Oftentimes, employers will nod to culture in a job posting. If the ad mentions a “team environment,” it might be good to play up a recent, successful collaboration. If the company wants a “self-starter,” consider including an achievement that proves you don’t need to be micromanaged.
The tone of your letter can also play to culture. “The cover letter is a great place to show [an employer] how you fit into their world,” Shipbaugh says. “Show some personality.”
5. End with an Ask
The goal of a cover letter is to convince the person reading it to make the next move in the hiring process — with a phone call, interview, or otherwise. Ending on a question opens that door without groveling for it.
“You have to approach this with a non-beggar mentality,” Sawhney says. “Having an ‘ask’ levels the playing field.”
Related: What Your Resume Should Look Like in 2018