“Please send your résumé and a cover letter.”
There it is. The dreaded second ask. Here you were hoping that you could get away with just sending a résumé, and now you have to scrape together a cover letter … and you hate cover letters.
Sound familiar? Because I hear it often.
I haven’t met too many people who actually enjoy writing cover letters, and I can understand why. However, a cover letter can serve as a great opportunity to stand out from other applicants if you choose to take advantage of writing an effective one.
So, how do you make one effective?
Keep it really simple; two-thirds to three-quarters of a page max. Whoever gets your cover letter will not want to read a long letter but will more likely than not read a concise and compelling one.
The first two items on the page are your address and the date. Place those in the upper left-hand corner followed by a space and then the hiring manager’s name and job title (if you can find it) followed by the company’s address; just like with any formal business letter.
The first paragraph (which is one sentence long) states who you are and why you are writing to them. This can be in response to a specific job posted or because you simply have an interest in the company even if there is no job posted. Yes, you can (and should) do that if you’re really interested in a particular company.
Next paragraph (which is separated by a space), two or three lines about the company and any recent news you’ve uncovered in your research. For example, a congrats on their new product line that you’ve seen in your local store or maybe a recent acquisition that you read about.
Then, two or three lines on what you think the pain points are for the hiring manager. They all have them, especially when they are looking to fill roles. Get out in front of it and make a guess based on the job description. If you can tie it back to the previous paragraph, great; if not, that’s okay. In either case, you’ll likely either be right on the money or really close with your assumptions.
For example, “Given the recent acquisition of XYZ Inc. and its vast assortment of products, I have to imagine there is a need to not only integrate the products into your company’s larger portfolio, but also to develop and execute a cohesive marketing strategy to build awareness of this new-look product line.”
Next, illustrate a personal business achievement of yours that has some parallels to the pain point you just mentioned in the previous paragraph.
When I say illustrate, I mean tell a (very brief) specific story of how you achieved or accomplished something that made your current or previous role better in some way. It’s so much more interesting for the reader and also allows you to infuse a little personality into these typically dry letters.
Finally, express your interest in wanting to learn more about the role and the company.
That’s it. Interesting and to the point. You are putting a majority of the focus on the hiring manager and not yourself. Most job seekers do just the opposite; they just talk about themselves and their skill sets.
Don’t do that.
A hiring manager is not going to take the time to piece your experience together to determine if you could possibly be a good fit. He or she will do the easier thing instead and move onto the next résumé.
Do the work and SHOW them that you’re worth speaking to about the role.
Okay, I got all that, but these still take time and I’m busy. Can’t I just use a generic cover letter instead?
HR professionals and hiring managers can sniff out generic cover letters in two seconds. It’s a wasted opportunity and, more importantly, could actually make your first impression a negative one.
Take the time to do a little research about a company to show your interest and then make the majority of the cover letter about the company and the hiring manager.
This approach will help you stand out from dozens (if not hundreds) of other applicants.