If you’re going to include a cover letter, make sure it includes these 3 things
Let your resume set ‘em up, and your cover letter knock ‘em down.
Recently, we discovered that the cover letter is just about dead. It’s not completely obsolete yet, but we learned from recruiters that they spend precious little time reviewing job candidates’ materials—and according to a 2015 survey, only 18% of hiring managers consider the cover letter important.
Even so, many jobs still ask you to file a letter along with your other application materials. And even if it’s optional, you might take the opportunity if they’ve asked. “The cover letter provides you the opportunity to connect the dots for the human resources staff,” says Vickie Seitner, executive business coach and founder of Career Edge One in Omaha, Nebraska.
So if you’re going to submit one, first, make sure each letter is tailored to the job you’re applying for and references the position. Second, make sure each cover letter you write includes these three elements.
Proof that you’ve done your homework
Recruiters and hiring managers want to see that you know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s important in the early sections of your cover letter that you refer to the job, its title and the company in some form.
And don’t be afraid to do a little flattering. Impress your potential future boss with an acknowledgement of a major company success. Bonus points if that success relates to the team you’d be joining.
Management expert Alison Green, in a 2007 post on her Ask A Manager blog, gives an example of how you’d sneak this info into your cover letter narrative. This is an excerpt from her sample cover letter, which would be included as part of an application for a magazine staff writer job.
I’m impressed by the way you make environmental issues accessible to non-environmentalists (particularly in the pages of Sierra Magazine, which has sucked me in more times than I can count), and I would love the opportunity to be part of your work.
The writing is informal, flattering and shows the job applicant knows the ropes.
An explanation of how your skills relate
Your cover letter is also the written explanation of your resume as it relates to the job. So it’s important you explain in the letter what exactly it is you can do for this company and this role based on your previous experience.
Here’s one revolutionary approach that accomplishes this without boring the reader to death. Darrell Gurney, career coach and author of Never Apply for a Job Again: Break the Rules, Cut the Line, Beat the Rest, asks the job candidate to write what he calls a “T-Letter.”
This is a letter with a two-sentence intro followed by two columns: One on the left headed, “Your Requirements” and one on the right headed, “My Qualifications.” Bye-bye big, boring blocks of text.
Using the job description, pull out sentences that express what they are looking for and place those in the “Your Requirements” column. Then add a sentence for each to the “My Qualifications” column that explains how your skills match those.
It’s an aggressive, bold approach. But one that could set you apart from the rest.
“You have a short-and-sweet, self-analyzed litmus test that they will read,” Gurney says. “It is pointed and has them, at minimum, think that this person has at least looked to see a congruent fit.”
Of course, you can also do this in a more traditional way—simply stating how your skills connect to the job.
Your excitement about the position
Here’s an exercise: Think about yourself in the job you’re applying for. What do you feel? You’re probably pretty pumped, huh.
Now harness some of that excitement and put it down on paper.
For example, if you were applying to a web design or UX job, you could write, “For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in how the digital world works and how users interact with websites. Website design is not only my career, it’s my passion, which is why I hope you’ll consider me for this great role on your team.”
This has feeling and emotion; a far cry from the dry form letter you thought you had to write.
As we said, HR staff and hiring managers have limited time and a lot of resumes to sort through. Don’t put them to sleep. Create something they’ll remember you by. It just might be the difference between your application ending up in the trash or the inbox of the boss.
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You’ve personalized your cover letter to the role and company, written killer opening and closing lines, and even figured out how to give it something special.
But you’re not done yet. Before you submit it, double check to make sure you’re not using any of these five words and phrases—they’ll sabotage even the greatest cover letters.
1. “I Think I’d Be a Great Fit…”
When I was in my high school, my English teacher told us never to use “I think” in an essay because if we were writing something, well, it was obvious that was what we thought.
The same holds true for cover letters. Not only are “I think,” “I feel,” “I believe,” and so on redundant, they also make you sound insecure.
Get rid of every “opinion phrase” in your cover letter. 99% of the time, you won’t even have to reword the sentence. For example, instead of saying, “I’m confident my communication skills would make me a strong Project Manager,” write “My communication skills would make me a strong Project Manager.”
It’s shorter, simpler, and more convincing.
Sure, you could say you’re “a good writer,” or “good at working with other people.” But there are so many adjective options out there, and they’re almost all more powerful than “good.”
Replace “good” with one of these descriptors:
Note: Make sure the alternative you choose accurately represents your skill or experience. If you’ve got two year’s worth of recruiting under your belt, you’d probably want to call yourself a “skilled,” “capable,” or “enthusiastic” recruiter rather than an “expert” or “experienced” one.
3. “This Job Would Help Me Because…”
Let’s be real: You, your friends, and your family members care why this job would help you. But the hiring manager does not. All he or she cares about is finding the best person for the role. So if you find yourself explaining how this position would help you develop your leadership skills, learn more about your desired industry, or get established as a thought leader—hit the delete key.
You do need to explain why you’re applying for this specific job at this specific company.
Here’s the magic formula:
Your abilities + the company’s needs = desirable results
Let’s say you’re applying for a front-end engineering job. By following this formula, you’d get:
4. “As You Can See on My Resume…”
This is a common filler phrase. But if the hiring manager can see something on your resume, announcing its presence is unnecessary.
All you have to do is remove this phrase—no other changes needed!
So instead of saying, “As you can see on my resume, I’ve been working in marketing and PR for the last five years,” you’d write, “I’ve been working in marketing and PR for the last five years.”
Bonus: Your directness will project confidence.
5. “I’m the Best Candidate Because…”
Confidence is good, but arrogance is not. And even if you’re sure that you’d be an absolutely fantastic choice, you don’t know you’re the best. Imagine reading through six cover letters in a row from people who all claim to be “the best candidate.” That would get annoying pretty quickly, right?
To stay on the hiring manager’s good side, refrain from using “best.” Along similar lines, I’d also stay away from “ideal” and perfect.”
You want to choose descriptors that are in between “good” and best.”
Whipping a cover letter into shape isn’t easy or quick—but being rewarded by a job makes it all worth it!