One recruiter said cover letters were so unilaterally bad, he had concluded they weren’t worth reading, therefore he didn’t. And I know we don’t like writing them because clients email me and say:
“Well it doesn’t say a cover letter is required, so I don’t need to send one… right?”
Wrong. You need to send one!
Just make sure your cover letter doesn’t help eliminate you from the competition by controlling the effort, content, and ultimately the quality of how you communicate. Coupled with a great resume, this will put you up 2-0 over your less prepared, less careful competition.
Here are 5 ways you can write a great cover letter, and get it read.
1. Save Something for the Interview
The purpose of the cover letter is not to tell your whole life story. Nor is its purpose to regurgitate everything on your resume. When you do either, you make your cover letter longer than it needs to be. Look, don’t over-engineer this. I see way too many cover letters that are multiple pages.
If you think you have to write multiple pages, you’re making it too hard. They won’t get read. And besides, you need to save something for the interview!
The cover letter should be an invitation to look further at you, and create a compelling reason for a reader to grab your resume (and hopefully be mesmerized by it). Your goals with every cover letter are simple:
- Introduce yourself.
- Tell the narrative about how your experience makes you the perfect candidate for a job.
- Create a call to action for following up.
No more… and no less! To that end it should be inviting to read, create a connection to the employer, and be no more than one page!
2. Make the Letter Inviting to Read
Remember that any given recruiter is looking at gobs of applications, resumes and cover letters, and probably sifting through a couple of hundred emails per day. So any document you send relative to a job search, is competing with hundreds of others documents for ‘eyeball time.’
To wit, 83% of recruiters recently said they spend one minute, or less, reading a cover letter. That means they are skimming, not reading. So, your job is to give them meaningful, easy-to-digest-in-one-minute information. That means:
- A simple opening paragraph that connects to them.
- Bullets of compelling evidence that position you as the perfect candidate
- A closing paragraph with a call to action.
- Strategically placed bold font to lead the viewer down the page.
- Lots of white space.
- Absolutely, positively no more than one page.
And once done, run through a quick checklist from the employer perspective:
- Readable in one minute? Check.
- Visually interesting? Check.
- More likely to get read than other applicants’ cover letters? Check!
3. Unify Your Design
Make your cover letter look and feel like your resume and other marketing material. This presents you as having thought through all your materials. Some might call this branding. Others might call it planning. I like to think of it as being professional.
And it doesn’t have to be fancy. If you use horizontal lines at the top of your resume, convey that same look to your cover letter. Make them feel like a “matched correspondence set.”
If you want a proven template for your resume and cover letter materials, you need The Resume Coloring Book! It walks you through step-by-step how to create your cover letter and resume, and is proven to get you more interviews. Check it out here.
4. Invite the Reader in with a Good Introduction
Please do not start a cover letter with: “I’m writing to apply for such and such position, #123455.”
That’s how all the OTHER letters start. And you want to STAND OUT from them.
Instead, in that first paragraph make a connection of some kind to the employer. It can be anything from the mention of mutual acquaintances, an experience you had with the organization or industry, or maybe something you found on the employer’s web site that you can comment on.
I find this is often a sticking point for new grads. It can be challenging to finesse those initial sentences that connect you to an employer, in a way that makes them want to keep reading. What should you say other than, “I’m here to apply for….”? Do some research. Make it authentic and interesting.
Here is an example:
When I read the client testimonials on your web site, I summed up my impression in two words: Trusting Relationships. You blow your clients away with your commitment to their goals. It convinced me to apply for the Project Manager position that’s open.
You need someone in that job who understands the concept of Trusting Relationships. You need someone who can translate the vision of the client, to a delivered solution. I am that person.
5. Provide Evidence
Think of your cover letter as the “highlights” and the resume as the “detail” of why you are the perfect candidate. In your cover letter body, use 3 or 4 bullets to share evidence and accomplishments that position you as qualified.
- Be brief, articulate and to the point.
- Quantify the scope of work and results.
- Bold the keywords the employer is looking for in that job.
Here’s some examples:
I understand how to connect client needs to the organization mission. I recently presented a project proposal for a $400K site wide sustainability program supported with schematics, flow charts, and spreadsheets.
I’m a perfect combination of strategy and business. I’ve managed projects, programs, events, and people. I have the ability for turning chaos into solutions. I recently took an under-performing publication with a circulation of over 25,000 and generated a $750,000 profit in less than 9 months.
I listen with an ear for detail, and with the client relationship front and center – I’ve worked with up to 30 unique clients while sustaining nearly 100% client satisfaction in my programs.
The key: Tie the examples and results to the desired skill set for this job at this company! What are they looking for? What can’t they live without?
End your letter with a call to action about when you will call the employer… and then follow up on your commitment. If you don’t, you’ve lost credibility in the search. As well, a P.S. might not be a bad idea, as P.S. memos on letters often get read. You can include a teaser about a big accomplishment, a testimonial from a reference or an article relevant to the company’s industry.
You now have no excuse for writing a cover letter that sucks. In addition, I know these steps will help you feel more confident about putting your best (written) foot forward.
For this post, YouTern thank our friend, Lea McLeod!
About the Author: Lea McLeod is author of the Resume Coloring Book. Check it out if you are struggling with writing your resume in today’s job market. She’s also founder of the Job Success Lab so that you can GO PRO in any job! Follow her onTwitter and her blog: DegreesofTransition.com.