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
Cover letter mistakes you should avoid
Nix these things and make sure your first impression isn't the equivalent of a limp handshake.
Avoid these common mistakes when writing your cover letter.
Your cover letter is like a handshake—it’s how you introduce yourself to employers when you apply for a job. Like a good handshake, you want your cover letter to be strong, succinct, and make a great first impression.
This isn’t a part of the job application process you want to skimp on, either. A cover letter allows you to go into more detail than your resume allows, explain gaps in your employment history or your need for a career change, and make a case as to why you would be a great fit for the position. And a great cover letter can open the door to scoring an interview and, ultimately, landing a job.
Make sure your first impression is a good and lasting one by avoiding these common mistakes below when writing your cover letter.
1. Overusing “I”
Your cover letter is not your autobiography. The focus should be on how you meet an employer's needs, not on your life story. Avoid the perception of being self-centered by minimizing your use of the word "I," especially at the beginning of your sentences.
2. Using a weak opening
When writing a cover letter, job seekers frequently struggle with the cover letter's opening. This difficulty often results in a feeble introduction lacking punch and failing to grab the reader's interest. Consider this example:
- Weak: Please consider me for your sales representative opening.
- Better: Your need for a top-performing sales representative is an excellent match to my three-year history as a top-ranked, multimillion-dollar producer.
3. Omitting your top selling points
A cover letter is a sales letter that sells you as a candidate. Just like your resume, it should be compelling and give the main reasons you should be called for an interview. Winning cover letter tips include emphasizing your top accomplishments or creating subheadings culled from the job posting. For example:
- Your ad specifies: Communication skills
I offer: Five years of public speaking experience and an extensive background in executive-level report.
- Your ad specifies: The need for a strong computer background
I offer: Proficiency in all MS Office applications with additional expertise in website development and design.
4. Making it too long
If your cover letter exceeds one page, you may be putting readers to sleep. A great cover letter is concise but compelling, and respects the reader's time.
5. Repeating your resume word for word
Your cover letter shouldn't regurgitate what's on your resume. Reword your cover letter statements to avoid dulling your resume's impact. Consider using the letter to tell a brief story, such as "my toughest sale" or "my biggest technical challenge."
6. Being vague
If you're replying to an advertised opening—as opposed to writing a cold cover letter—reference the specific job title in your cover letter. The person reading your letter may be reviewing hundreds of letters for dozens of different jobs. Make sure all of the content in your letter supports how you will meet the employer's specific needs.
7. Forgetting to customize
If you're applying to a number of similar positions, chances are you're tweaking one letter and using it for multiple openings. That's fine, as long as you customize each letter. Don't forget to update the company, job and contact information—if Mr. Jones is addressed as Ms. Smith, he won't be impressed.
8. Ending on a passive note
When possible, put your future in your own hands with a promise to follow up. Instead of asking readers to call you, try a statement like this: I will follow up with you in a few days to answer any preliminary questions you may have. In the meantime, you may reach me at (555) 555-5555.
9. Being rude
Your cover letter should thank the reader for his or her time and consideration.
10. Forgetting to sign the letter
It is proper business etiquette (and shows attention to detail) to sign your letter. Err on the side of formality, and if you need any help figuring out how to close your cover letter, consider these possible sign-offs.
However, if you are sending an email cover letter and resume, a signature isn't necessary.
If you need additional writing tips, join Monster today, so the experts at Monster's Resume Writing Service can help you impress employers with a high-impact resume and cover letter.