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.
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 check-boxes 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.