I’ve written before about how to craft your resume so that it contains the information that employers look for most (read that post here).
But what about the cover letter that accompanies your resume? What should it contain?
Before offering 8 specific tips on how to craft your letter, let me first define what I believe is the goal of a cover letter:
To point the employer to your resume where they can see a list of your quantifiable accomplishments (learn how to do that here) and to arouse in them a sense of curiosity that compels them to call you in for an interview.
That’s the goal. Nothing more.
With that in mind, here are some specific ideas on how to write a great cover letter.
Tips on Writing Your Cover Letter
How to open your letter.
Be direct and get to the point.
“I am writing because I am very interested in the (job title) position you posted. After reading the description of the kind of person you are looking for, I am confident that my career accomplishments make me uniquely qualified for the position.”
Keep it short.
The letter should be no more than one page. And that page should be formatted with comfortably wide margins on all sides.
Resist the temptation to lay out a complete rationale for hiring you in your letter. Leave that for the interview where the hiring decision is actually made.
Your job with the letter is to whet their appetite to learn more about you and your abilities. Leave yourself several powerful stories to cover during the interview.
Use short paragraphs.
A letter is more readable if you write short paragraphs.
Have you ever read Charles Dickens? A spectacular author who writes spectacularly long paragraphs; paragraphs that sometimes take up an entire page. I bet you’re like me in that you have to mentally prepare yourself to tackle a long paragraph.
Don’t force a prospective employer to do that. Make it easy for them. Five short paragraphs are better than 3 long ones.
Also, read Dickens anyway.
Use good grammar and punctuation.
Typos and bad grammar tell me that a candidate is either not very bright or is simply careless. Neither is a quality I’m looking for.
Proof your letter. Have others proof it, too. Don’t let grammatical mistakes and typos kill your chances right from the start.
Write in conversational tone.
It’s a mistake to try to impress the employer by using complicated and overly technical words. Simple language always works better.
Here’s an example of fuzzy language that I received from someone who wanted to work for me:
“I help customers solve critical execution challenges while bringing their new strategy to life through an On-Demand Strategy Execution Platform. The end result is that my customer’s employees learn how to support clearly articulated strategies while achieving alignment across all business areas, while simultaneously equipping management teams to take immediate action on any barriers that arise.”
To this day I haven’t the foggiest idea what that means. Do you?
Don’t try to impress with fancy words. Just communicate clearly.
If at all possible, address the letter to the hiring manager.
Most job postings don’t reveal the name of the hiring manager or recruiter. So, do a little research.
Call the company and say this:
“I sure hope you can help me. I’m applying for the (position) and would like to address my letter to the hiring manager or recruiter by name. Could you please tell me the name of the appropriate person?”
That first sentence works so well that it’s practically magic. When you say, “I sure hope you can help me,” the attitude of the person on the other end shifts. Why? Because people like helping other people. And you’ve just given them an opportunity.
And be sure to get the correct spelling of the person’s name.
When done artfully, this is an incredibly powerful tool.
Here’s how to use it: state one of your accomplishments. Be specific in describing the results. But intentionally leave out the details of how you made it happen. Then tease them by offering to share all of the details in the interview.
(The Accomplishment) “I was asked to create a marketing plan that would yield a minimum of $75,000 in net income after expenses. When the project was complete, my supervisor was thrilled to learn that we’d generated $147,500 in net income with over 64% of the total coming from new customers. (The Tease) When we meet, I’d love to share with you the specific tactics we used and why I believe each contributed to our success.”
Who wouldn’t want to hear you tell that story? But because you left out the details, they’ll need to interview you in order to hear it.
End your letter with a call to action.
Word the last paragraph in such a way that the next step is yours, not theirs. This isn’t possible if the job posting says, “Please no calls.” Honor their request. But be sure to include one or two teases in the letter to entice them to call you.
If the posting doesn’t prohibit you from calling, give them a specific reason why it makes sense for you to contact them.
“Thank you for your consideration. My work days tend to be hectic and it can be challenging to reach me at times. So, if I don’t hear from you in the next week or two, I’ll call you to follow up.”
If you’re applying for a position in another town, it’s even easier:
“Thank you for your consideration. Since I currently work and live in Chicago, perhaps we could set up a phone interview first to determine if there’s a fit. During the call, we can determine if it makes sense for me to come to town for a face-to-face meeting. With that in mind, I’ll call you in the next week or two to find a convenient time for us to talk.”
A Bit of Encouragement
The job search can be frustrating. You send dozens of letters and resumes and sometimes it feels as if they’re vanishing into a black hole. But if you incorporate the ideas I’ve presented here, you’ll dramatically increase your chances of getting noticed and landing the interview.
An important reminder…the recruiter desperately hopes that you are the right person for the job. They need to hire someone because work is not getting done that needs to get done. Why shouldn’t you be that person?
So, relax and go make magic happen.
For ideas on how to make the most of an interview, check out my post, How to Ace the Most Important Question in a Job Interview.