You’ve found the perfect job , your resume and references are all lined up and ready to go, and now there’s just one thing standing between you and hitting “send” on the application: the dreaded cover letter.
Very few people actually enjoy writing cover letters (and if you do, please share your secrets). Even if you know the basics (one page, 4-6 paragraphs), it can be tough to dissect what, exactly, an employer is looking for and how to translate that into a few hundred glowing words.
But not only are cover letters inevitable, they’re also extremely important—it’s the only space you have outside your resume to make a good first impression . So if you want to land the job, you should be giving that letter the attention it deserves. Follow these tips, and make your next cover letter stand out from the rest of the stack.
1. Be All About Them
A career counselor once said to me, “say not what the company can do for you, say what you can do for the company.” Although you certainly want to explain why you’re interested in a position, it’s best to spend the majority of your letter describing how you will be an asset to the company.
Even when you talk about why you’re pursuing the job, word it in a way that highlights your passion for what the organization does. If you say, “I’ve been engaged in this field for four years through my experiences in…,” that’ll sound much better than, “this would be a great step for my career.” After all, they’re not hiring you to help you out—they’re hiring you to help them out .
2. Be a Copycat
While I know that you have ample accomplishments and abilities—and want to share them all with everyone —not every experience is going to be relevant to every position. So how do you know what to keep and what to put on the chopping block?
Here’s the secret: When employers create a job description, it’s essentially a checklist of the things they’re looking for in an employee. So, in your cover letter, you want to tick off as many of those checkboxes as possible.
In order to make it easy for an employer to see that you have what they’re looking for, mimic the job description—not word for word, of course, but by finding the things that the company is looking for and highlighting specific examples of how you have them. This will help you focus on credentials that are really important—and help the employer focus on why you’re the perfect match for the job.
3. Be Skill-Focused
Most people have a resume that’s structured around the jobs they’ve held, rather than their skills . So turn your letter into an opportunity to highlight on 2-4 of your relevant abilities . Structure each paragraph around one of the skills you’ve chosen to highlight, then write 2-3 sentences about how your experiences specifically showcase them.
Again, you don’t need to worry about covering everything, or even necessarily about being chronological. With this strategy, you’ll avoid repeating your resume—making the most of the space you have in your cover letter, and not wasting the time of your potential employer.
4. Be Specific
Just like your resume , you want your letter to get very specific when you talk about your accomplishments. Give them facts, figures, and numbers. Tell them how much money you raised, how many people you organized, and just how big and impressive your accomplishments are. (The only caveat to this: If your numbers aren’t really large enough to impress the company, leave them out.)
5. Be Yourself
When you’re writing your cover letter, remember that the hiring manager is likely going to be reading a lot of them (and she probably doesn’t really enjoy reading them much more than you like writing them). So, while you want to make the letter professional, you also want to put some of your own personality in it.
You shouldn’t ever step over the line of professionalism , but crafting an engaging letter with some color will catch people’s eyes and make them think, “wow, this would be a fun person to work with.” And that might be just enough to set you apart from all the other qualified applicants out there.
The good news is, the more you write, the easier it becomes. And while you may never list writing cover letters as one of your favorite activities, with these tips and a little bit of work, you’ll be on your way to writing great letters—and more importantly, landing those interviews .
Check out more from Job Search Month at The Daily Muse!
Photo courtesy of Macinate .
When it comes to applying for a job, you want to provide a highlight reel of your career path and show why your background and experiences make you an ideal fit for the position in question. To do this effectively, you can start with a cover letter template.
But, well, what if you don’t exactly have that perfectly trodden path?
For many of us, tying together three tangentially related experiences, a side gig, and some outside-of-work interests or volunteer work to explain why we could do the gig is more the norm. So, how exactly do you do that in a tidy one-page cover letter and thoughtfully showcase why you’re the right one for the position?
Hint: It’s all about highlighting your transferable skills.
This approach shifts the conversation away from relevant experience and more toward whether you can do that job or not—and that is exactly what you want to do when you haven’t had a linear career path.
So, how do you do it?
First, figure out which skills you want to emphasize by carefully reviewing the job description. Underline or highlight the most important technical and behavioral skills the position requires. (Or, better yet, find a contact who knows the hiring manager and do some recon work to see what he or she is really looking for.)
Choose three skills that you feel are your strong suits to focus on. For each one, brainstorm some projects, assignments, or responsibilities that truly illustrate your expertise in that area, then select either one in-depth or a couple of shorter experiences to talk about.
Finally, roll it all together into a cover letter that clearly highlights those skills. It’ll be structured something like this:
With the utmost enthusiasm, I would like to express my interest in the [position title] position at [company]. My interest in [field] has taken me from [experience] to [experience]. I believe that my passion for [aspect of your field or background], strong commitment to [aspect of your field or background], and interest in [aspect of your field or background] make me an ideal candidate to join the [department] staff at [company].
As a candidate, here’s what I could immediately bring to the table:
An effective [descriptor that reflects transferable skill #1]:In my role at [previous job], I [action or accomplishment]. I was also able to showcase my [skill] abilities as a [role] in [project name] project by [what you did].
A disciplined [descriptor that reflects transferable skill #2]:I have always displayed my careful approach to [job duty] by [action]. At [previous company], I frequently [action]. In addition, I had the opportunity to [action or accomplishment], which further shows my dedication to [aspect of your field].
A passionate [descriptor that reflects transferable skill #3]:Everything I have engaged in so far has all been driven by my keen interest in [aspect of your field]. Even as a [previous role], I made sure to dedicate some part of my day to [action]. It is this passion that has driven every one of my career decisions thus far.
I look forward to contributing my skills and experiences to the [position title] position at [company] and hope to have the opportunity to speak with you further about how I can be an asset to your team.
Of course, you can (and should!) insert your personality, creativity, and knowledge of the company into your letter—but this framework is a helpful way to convey your most relevant transferable skills to the recruiter (making his or her job a whole lot easier). Don’t bother walking through your entire career path and justifying every professional decision you made. Do the hiring manager (and yourself) a favor, and let your skills speak for themselves.
...why not make it easier on yourself?
Speak to a Cover Letter Coach Today