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How do you write an awesome cover letter that will land you the job?
Let me tell you a short story first.
Once upon a time, there was a girl who wanted to work with books.
She loved the smell of ink and paper. She loved to run her fingertips along the leathery spines of old novels.
So, she wrote a great cover letter and gave it to the head librarian. She was hired on the spot and lived happily ever after.
How did a plain, old cover letter help the girl get a job? Does anyone even read those things anymore?
An engaging cover letter should tell the story of your passion for a position and how your experience will assist you in your future work.
Sounds great right?
But it’s not as easy as it seems.
Often, good cover letters can end up repeating your resume no matter how hard you try to make them sound different.
Hiring managers don’t have time to waste on bland, repetitive documents.
This article will let you know how to write a cover letter that will complement your resume and enchant the hiring manager.
Table of Contents
5. Key Takeaway
The short answer is yes.
Yes, it’s true that if you type “cover letters are” into Google, Autosuggest will offer you:
a waste of time
And a lot of experts will point blank tell you that hiring managers and recruiters don’t read even the best cover letters at all.
Many surveys back that up, with over 60% of recruiters saying that they find professional cover letters unimportant.
Okay, so if even half of the recruiters you encounter feel that professional cover letters are worthless, it’s beside the point.
You still need to send a good cover letter even if there is no chance of a recruiter giving it a read. Unless you are specifically told not to send one.
Better safe than sorry. You never know if your resume is going to end up with a recruiter who belongs to the 40% who do feel it’s important to send in a cover letter for a job application.
Do you want to play roulette with your shot at a dream job? Of course, you don’t.
Think about this:
Hiring managers can receive an average of 250+ resumes in response to one job offer. That’s one of the reasons why they may not read your awesome cover letter.
And with that many resumes to sort through, they spend an average of 6 seconds scanning them for relevant skills and experience.
That’s why there is a good chance that they will skip over even the best cover letters and go straight to the meat - your resume.
Another reason is the rise of social media. Currently, 84% of organizations are recruiting on social media platforms, including LinkedIn and Facebook.
What does this have to do with a cover letter for a job application?
If you apply online, it is likely you will be asked to send your resume via email or an online application system.
In some cases, the email you send will feel like the equivalent of a professional cover letter. And if you apply online there may not even be a place for you to paste your covering letter for a resume.
Here’s the thing:
Does it hurt your chances of getting an interview if you send a great cover letter for a job?
No. And in a lot of industries, NOT sending a professional cover letter WILL hurt your chances.
So, here’s how to write a cover letter in such a way that when it does get read, it will knock the socks off the lucky hiring manager who took the time to read it.
The basics: a good cover letter is a one-page document written like a letter that you send as an introduction to your resume.
The best cover letters do a few things:
Think of your covering letter for a job as an opportunity to narrate your resume.
Do you have gaps in your work history, or are you in the middle of a career change?
Well, a successful cover letter will provide an explanation for these things in a way a resume can’t.
A covering letter is also the best place for you to go into detail about how you are going to meet the needs of the company. It should also explain why your skills, achievements, and personality are a good fit.
Now, there are three types of cover letters:
In most cases, you will want to think about how to write a cover letter in response to a job offer.
If there is no job on offer, there are some small differences in the way you will want to write your covering letter. More on that later.
Writing a good cover letter is a bit like writing a business letter.
The first element of both is the contact information.
It looks like this:
Your Contact Information:
062 Magnolia Street
Flowerville, Ohio 55675
The Employer’s Contact Information:
Mr. John Smith
099 Peony Street
Flowerville, Ohio 55675
Here are some quick tips for writing contact information:
1. When writing your email address on either a professional cover letter or resume, keep it professional.
What does that mean?
2. You don’t need to include your address. It may even be better to leave it out, especially if the job for which you are applying is not local.
3. Make sure the telephone number you provide is one you are going to answer. Use your mobile number if you aren’t home often.
4. Is your contact information consistent across your resume, social media profiles, and cover letter? You will want to be sure that everything is up to date and consistent. While it sounds silly, leaving outdated information on your documents is an easy mistake to make.
5. Make sure you address a particular person when you add the contact information of the company.
Speaking of addressing a particular person...
We are in the age of personalization. So, the most fool-proof thing you can do to make the best cover letter is to start by using the hiring manager’s name. And there is a lot of science to back up that claim.
Think about it:
When was the last time you were at a party?
Okay, so it’s been awhile, sure.
Just imagine you are at one.
There is a group in the corner discussing taxes. Another group in the kitchen is talking about brands of baby strollers. The group in the living room is rehashing the latest Game of Thrones episode.
And while you stand there drinking a Diet Coke, your brain will begin to block any conversations you don’t find interesting.
Let’s say that it freaks you out when your Facebook friends post creepy baby photos. So, your brain is going to block that group gossiping in the kitchen.
Someone says your name.
Your ears will swivel. And your brain will instantly block out everything else and refocus on the person who called out to you. Even if it’s one of the baby ladies.
We love the sound of our names. We love personalization.
Erik Devaney, a content strategist at Hubspot, writes about the use of personalization in marketing and the advent of customized content.
And when you consider how to write a cover letter or a resume, what works for marketing will work for your documents as well. Because in the end, they are essentially marketing documents too.
He points out that that personalization gives us two things:
a sense of control
a solution to information overload
Let’s say a hiring manager is reading your awesome cover letter. They see that the greeting is addressed directly to them. The simple act of seeing their name will cause the hiring manager to feel like they have control over what they are reading.
Erik points out that the sense of control a reader feels is an illusion. Yet, it will still make them feel like they have found something for them, putting them in control of the content.
Next, after the hiring manager reads her name, she will feel like you are presenting her with the information she has been looking for - information that has been tailored to her needs and desires.
She has hundreds of great cover letters and resumes to read. If that’s not information overload, I don’t know what is.
If she finds one with her name on it, she won’t feel as overwhelmed by that pile of information.
And look at that:
Just by using the hiring manager’s name you’ve made her feel like she has in her hand exactly what she is looking for - you.
So, how do you find out what the hiring manager’s name is?
First, check the job description. Sometimes the hiring manager’s contact information will be provided there.
If not, try contacting the company via phone to find out to whom you should address your cover letter. It is best to call the company instead of sending an email.
The next course of action is to check the LinkedIn profiles of Human Resource managers from the company. It is better to address a person from the company than no one at all.
If in the end, you cannot find the name or contact information of the person who will be reading your resume, write “Dear Hiring Manager” as your greeting. Simply put the company’s information in the contact section.
The only greeting you want to avoid is “To whom it may concern.” The entire purpose of a good cover letter is to add a personal touch to your documents and “To whom it may concern” is not personal.
After the greeting, you will want to write a personable introduction that will catch the attention of the recruiter. Start by explaining what position you are applying for and how you came to find it.
You can add basic information about yourself like your degree and area of study, or your career goals that are in line with the goals of the company.
Or here’s a thought:
The opening paragraph of your cover letter may very well be the FIRST thing that a hiring manager will see. Plus they are on a tight schedule.
You’ve managed to personalize the content, and you have their attention. They think that your content is what they want and need.
Now, it’s time to show them that they aren’t wrong.
To do that, you might want to consider starting with a punchy, unique opening that grabs the manager and hooks them.
Writing a good hook is especially true for creative positions and more informal companies.
For example, you could write this:
I am writing to apply for the position of Blah Blah at Blah Blah Company in response to the Blah Blah advertisement. I have a Blah Blah degree in Blah Blah and Blah Blah Blah.
You could start with a splash, and write about your passions and achievements. You could use humor and creativity.
Since I was child, I always wanted to be Indiana Jones. He was a great accessorizer. The bullwhip, the leather jacket, the fedora...just perfect. After I arrived at the realization that I lack the physical capacity to avoid giant boulders, I became an Accessory Designer. Now, armed with my passion for aesthetics and functionality instead of a bullwhip, I have set out on the adventure of applying for the position of Accessory Designer at your company.
See? That’s exciting!
Just remember that this type of introduction may not be suitable for every type of job or every company.
When considering how to write your cover letter, choose a tone and style that reflects the values and culture of the company.
You can also compromise between the two solutions. Write an introduction that shows your enthusiasm and knowledge about the company.
I am excited to apply for the position of Marketing Manager at Pie in the Sky. The company has become a success story because your marketing team understands how the combination of humor and digital marketing techniques sparks viral content and speaks to the Internet generation. As a creative person, I wish to use my writing skills and knowledge of trends and humor to help Pie in the Sky continue to “wow” it’s audiences with superior content.
The second and third paragraphs, or the body of the cover letter, are where you give the hiring manager exactly what they want.
What do they want?
They want you to show them how you are going to meet their needs and solve their problems if they hire you.
How do you know what they need?
It’s all written in the job description.
Every skill they list and trait they ask for is something they need. The best candidates know that the key to writing a great cover letter for a job application is to use keywords and phrases from the job description.
Start by choosing two or three of your strongest skills and achievements that match the most crucial skills listed in the job offer. Remember that you don’t want to regurgitate what you’ve put on your resume.
Next, you will want to fit these skills and achievements into the context of your previous, relevant work experience.
Don’t worry it’s pretty simple.
The first line should explain the basic details of your previous job:
Where + Title + How Long
For the past three years, I have been working as a Chief Animal Wrangler for Perky Pets.
The next few sentences go into the responsibilities, projects, or achievements you’d like to highlight as a part of your work. Here is where you do the tailoring.
Choose a few responsibilities that fit with what you will be doing at your new job.
As Chief Animal Wrangler, I am responsible for training various types of animals for roles in blockbuster Hollywood films, as well as rehearsing with them and providing them with cues.
Finally, add a few more lines explaining how everything you wrote will translate to success in your new role.
I have a reputation in the industry for handling some of the calmest, most well-behaved animals. My inner sense of poise and self-confidence allows animals to develop a strong bond and sense of trust with the human actors that they work with on set.
Always try to use facts and figures to draw attention to important information and to give the hiring manager a tangible sense of what you are capable of doing.
Over the course of my employment with Perky Pets, there were zero incidents of the animals failing to meet the requirements of their roles. All of the animals passed stress and health exams 100% of the time.
The second and third paragraphs are also where you may want to explain why you have decided to make a career change or why there is a gap in your work history. A successful cover letter will tell the story that a resume can’t.
Regardless, you will want to tailor the content to meet the needs of the recruiter.
The last paragraph or conclusion of the best cover letters include a call to action:
Something like: “Give me an interview!”
If you’ve done your job, this last bit doesn’t need to be fancy. At the same time, it is the last impression you will make on the hiring manager.
So don’t leave a bad taste in their mouth. Be confident and enthusiastic.
Just include the following information:
End your letter with “Sincerely” or “Best” and type your name.
I feel that my 10+ years in sales and customer service will allow me to help XYZ reach the ambitious sales targets set for the upcoming year. I look forward to discussing our opportunities at an interview. I will follow up within a week from now, and I can be contacted any time during the week at 419-564-6868. Thank you once again for your time and consideration.
Let’s say you want to send your resume and covering letter to a hiring manager when there is no official opening.
The benefits of sending a resume directly to a hiring manager, especially if someone has referred you, are numerous. While only 7% of the resumes hiring managers receive are thanks to a referral, 40% of hires are made that way.
There are some small differences that you will need to keep in mind when considering how to write a cover letter for this particular situation.
Personalization is even more important when you send a cover letter or resume directly to a hiring manager.
You will want to make sure in this case that you know the hiring manager’s name.
Mention why you are so interested in working for them. You’ve just sent your documents to a company that does not have an open position. You must be enthusiastic about the company for some reason. Tell the hiring manager why.
You should make it clear to the hiring manager that you know their organization like the inside of your pocket.
Show that your skills and experience will fit in with the long-term goals of the business.
End by explaining what you hope to get out of sending your resume to a hiring manager who doesn’t have a job to fill.
Perhaps you just want to know when the hiring manager will have a position available, and if they could keep your resume on file until then. Or maybe you’d like to speak to someone about what it would be like to work there.
Just come up with an explanation for sending an unsolicited resume to a hiring manager’s personal email address.
Finish by saying that you will contact that in a few weeks unless they contact you prior.
Writing a good cover letter is still a necessary part of applying for a job. Some hiring managers may not take the time to read your cover letter. Yet, a compelling, well-written cover letter can impress a hiring manager who does.
That’s why it is important to:
Taking the time to do these things could be the difference between getting called in for an interview or having your resume ignored.
Do you have any questions about how to write a successful cover letter? If so, let me know in the comments and I’d be happy to reply.