How to take a throwaway document and turn it into an ultimate personal marketing tool
The dreaded cover letter! No one likes to write them and many wonder if they are ever even read. Most people treat them as generic form letters they send out accompanying their resume. They change very little in regards to the application, and the letter ends up falling flat, doing nothing to enhance their candidacy.
Your cover letter is your first writing sample to a company. It connects the dots between your resume and why you want the job. It helps hiring managers to see where you are and where you're going. It should never just regurgitate your resume. Save the boring canned responses and craft something that moves people to want to know more about you!
There's no way around it; every cover letter should be customized for the job you're seeking. If you don't care about getting the job, and it makes no difference to you where you work, send a form letter and see what you get. You can stop reading here. If you have more intention when you are applying, it's important that you treat each piece of your application materials as a representation of you, and your personal brand.
Having the requirements of the job description and the skills needed to fulfill the role are great. You're probably up against people that have a similar degree to you, comparable years of experience, and the same hard skills or certifications. Your cover letter is where your soft skills come into major play. This is no time to lean on a form letter that will end up tossed in the garbage can.
With hiring managers spotting prefabricated letters from a mile away and not wanting to read them (who could blame them) we decided to break down the major components of a successful cover letter. These techniques will even make the most jaded reader breathe a sigh of relieve, at least one person in the stack of applicants has a clue and a real desire for the role!
Identify the hiring manager and direct your letter specifically to him/her. Even if this takes a little investigation on your part, the effort will be a detail that sets the tone. It shows respect for the reader and attention to detail. Make sure you spell the names right, or this exercise is for nothing! Get more advice on this HERE. It's the small details that can make a big difference.
Sending a letter to “Dear Hiring Manager”, followed by “I'm applying for XYZ job I found on your website”, then concluding with “I look forward to being interviewed, and I've attached my resume for you to review”, tells me nothing about you other than you could care less about the job and you’ve been recycling the same letter for every application. Why should I waste my time on you?
Your cover letter is your chance to say this is why you need to pick me. This is why I want to work for your company. Here’s why I'm the right person for the job. It’s your last shot in the application process to tie it all together for the hiring manager and give them a compelling reason to bring you in for an interview. Lead off with your personal reasons, maintaining a professional tone, of why you're interested and what moved you to apply for the job.
Here’s an example of an opening paragraph that works:
I've been a loyal Nike brand ambassador ever since my dad gave me my first "Just Do It" T-shirt as a kid. When I saw that you had an opening for a Financial Analyst I knew this is my opportunity to work at a company that embodied everything I love about sports, fitness, and being an athlete.
This opener still identifies what job you applied for, but it also tells me a little bit about you, why Nike is where you want to work and that it is a has a personal connection to your life. That’s the kind of person who gets an interview. That’s who I want working next to me. Connection made!
You may think that’s easy to do when it’s a company like Nike. Sure, it has prestige, but you should be able to find some connection between the job and why you want to work there regardless. If not, should you be trying to work there?
For the non-believers, here’s an example aimed at a mom-and-pop style printing company:
Beautiful design never goes out of style. Neither does good business. My father owned his own small business for 15 years, so I know how difficult it is to make it work. Samuels Printing has done just that, and I would like to contribute to your continued success as your new in-house graphic designer.
While the opening may seem about you, this part is not. The meat of the letter is relating your experience to the job description; how you would fit in and bring value to their company/the role. If you can't sell yourself and communicate your value, why would they expect you to be able to do it for the product service or business you're applying?
Review the job description closely. Print it out if you have to and circle the things that match your abilities and skills. Once you identify their needs, it becomes easier to develop this section. Now look at your resume and your lists of accomplishments, how do they overlap? Utilize 3-4 bullet points that illustrate the intersections so the hiring manager can clearly see, not only do you meet the requirements, you have successfully already done them!
I am a big believer in the idea of show don’t tell. Proof is the key to this section!
Job description is seeking Desktop Analyst and one of the requirements is:
Experience handling calls and emails from customers to help resolve their IT issues including Mac and PC systems. Familiarity with ticketing systems preferred.
Your bullet point should prove that you have the experience and provide proof from your work history:
Troubleshot and resolved all Windows 7 and Mac related incidents assigned as a Level 1 Support Analyst utilizing the HP Service Now ticketing system.
When you paint a picture with proof, the Hiring Manger can imagine you doing the same for their company. You are providing supporting evidence to explain away any doubt that you are up to the tasks that the role requires.
These almost always sound generic. You want to close strong but not sound desperate. Don’t beg and plead about how you are right for the job if you could only get an interview! Don’t ruin all the good work you have already done. Simply reiterate your interest and thank them for their time.
No matter how well written the cover letter, it should never be longer than a page. It needs to be compelling but not tell your life story. Your cover letter is not the place to over share. Keep it concise, to the point, and make your best case on one page. Each job opening averages 250 applications these days and no matter how interesting you are, time matters to the reader. Make it easy to skim and match all the branding (font, layout, and colors) to your resume.
Implement these strategies and tips when writing your next cover letter and your chances of landing an interview will grow exponentially!
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