When you’re applying for jobs, cover letters can feel like the bane of your existence.
I’m a writer, and even I find the process daunting. What am I supposed to include? How many dumb jokes can I throw in? Do I have to use “To Whom It May Concern”?
Here’s what they had to say.
Do cover letters matter anymore?
Although it sometimes seems like writing anything longer than a tweet is going the way of the dodo, cover letters still matter — especially if you don’t have a recruiter or a direct introduction to the hiring manager.
“A compelling cover letter can be [the] thing that grabs the reader’s attention and shares how your career story lines up with what that company is looking for,” said Foss. “It’s your chance to show fit as well as an opportunity to give the reader a hint of your style and personality.”
Plus, since most cover letters are bad, according to Foss, a great cover letter gives you a strong advantage over your competition.
How to write a cover letter for a job
Here are seven tips from these experts that will help you write an amazing cover letter.
1. Don’t use a boilerplate cover letter
Although it might seem obvious that you shouldn’t use a boilerplate cover letter for different jobs, Kermes said this is the biggest mistake he sees people make.
“You have to customize what you’re going to say to each individual,” he said. “All of us know when we get an email that was written for the masses, and it doesn’t motivate us to take action.”
So, whatever you do, don’t write a single cover letter and swap out the names of the companies as you go. Personalize your cover letter in every way you can.
2. Find a direct contact
This is one of Foss’ top three tips for writing a cover letter because it’s the “best way to ensure it gets read,” she said.
Rather than emailing the general “firstname.lastname@example.org,” try to find out who the hiring manager is — and email them instead.
The same advice goes for figuring out who to address your letter to; use the name of the internal recruiter, HR person, or hiring manager if possible.
Kermes said this tip is important because it allows you to tailor your letter to not only the company — but also the individual.
“Invest the time to learn about who you’re writing to and what’s important to them,” he said. “It’s a noisy world, and we’ve found that making emotional connections gets more responses than anything else.”
To find this information, you could:
- Call or email the company to ask who’s hiring for a certain position.
- Use LinkedIn or the company website to determine the name of the HR person.
- Search on Google or Twitter for “human resources [company name].”
- Reach out to any contacts who work there and might be able to help.
If all else fails and you can’t find a name, Foss recommended addressing your letter using “Dear Hiring Team” instead of “To Whom It May Concern.”
3. Nail the lead
Now that the salutation is out of the way, it’s time for the most important part of the cover letter: the lead.
If you think “I’m writing to apply for XYZ position” will get you in the door, Foss said you’re dead wrong.
“Start out with that as the lead, and you’ve lost me before I get to the second sentence,” she said. “Draw the reader into the story by sharing what about that organization most impresses or captivates you and why — specifically — you want to work for them.”
Foss recommended something that’s “memorable and thoughtful.” Be creative.
If, for example, you’re applying to be an event planner at a resort you visited growing up, she offered the following suggestion: “My passion for Timberwoods Lodge dates back to 1985, which was the year I first rode my bike (a Schwinn Lil’ Chick, complete with banana seat) in your Fourth of July Jamboree.”
4. Explain what you’ll deliver
Once you’ve hooked your reader, the next few paragraphs should explain what you can do for them and the company.
“Spell out very quickly and succinctly what you can walk through that company’s doors and deliver, with the deliverables of the job directly in mind,” said Foss.
It doesn’t have to be a guessing game. She pointed out that the job description will give you “some very solid hints” about what they’re looking for.
Kermes suggested using three to four bullet points within the letter. Under each one, you should “quantify the outcomes you can produce to solve your recipient’s biggest problems,” he said.
So, instead of saying “I sold $300,000 worth of products at my last job,” you could say “I will use my past experiences to double sales of your products in the next 12 months.” After all, if you write a rockstar resume, it’ll have all the details about your past positions.
5. Sprinkle in some personality
No one wants to fall asleep while reading your cover letter, so Foss said you shouldn’t be afraid to use a conversational tone and a bit of personality.
“We all get so hung up on the ‘what it ought to be’ or the rules for cover letters that we end up with the world’s most boring, say-nothing end products,” she said. “Dare to be different; just keep it on point with what the company is looking for and what you can deliver.”
As for busting out jokes and casual language, Foss said it depends “on your writing strengths, the personality of the company or brand, and the position you’re applying for.”
If you’re applying to be an auditor at a conservative financial services firm, keep it formal. But if you’re applying to be a copywriter for a funky ad agency, you’ve got more room to play.
“Gauge the culture and personality of the brand and adjust your tone accordingly,” she explained.
6. Avoid cliches and don’t babble
Foss thinks these are two of the biggest mistakes job seekers make with their cover letters.
“People rattle on about what they want rather than show the reviewer exactly how and why they’re a great fit,” she said. “Or they go off on irrelevant tangents in an effort to look witty or original.”
When you write a cover letter for a job, you should be succinct and remain focused on the reader’s needs. You also should avoid meaningless words.
“Many people stuff a bunch of cliches into cover letters like ‘proven track record,’ ‘results-driven,’ and my personal favorite ‘very uniquely qualified,’” said Foss. “You can’t be ‘very unique’ — that statement alone is redundant. You either are unique or you aren’t.”
Use your cover letter to capture the reader’s attention and address their needs (which don’t include cliches).
7. Add a CTA
OK — you’re almost done! Before wrapping up your dazzling cover letter, you need to add one more thing: a call to action (CTA) for your reader.
“Make it clear what you want them to do and what you’re going to do,” said Kermes.
Your CTA could include a timeline for following up or a way the reader can connect with you. Either way, make sure the reader knows what action to take now that you’ve totally wowed them.
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