Writing cover letters is a boring but necessary part of job hunting. Here’s are some tips on how to craft one that catches the hiring manager’s attention (in a good way).
BY ANISA PURBASARI HORTON
You’ve probably heard that many recruiters don’t always read cover letters when they review applications. Unfortunately, despite some grumblings about it being an antiquated practice, many companies still include it as part of their application process. Sure, sometimes they make it optional, but do you really want to risk getting put in the “no” pile because most of the applicants included a cover letter?
They’re not the most fun to write, but you can make your cover letter more interesting to read for hiring managers. Here are a few tips to turn your boring cover letter into something that the person on the other side actually wants to read.
1. START YOUR COVER-LETTER WITH AN INTERESTING ANECDOTE
Whatever you do, don’t start your letter with “I’m writing to express my interest in x position.” Hopefully, you’ve applied to the right listing or made that obvious in your subject line if you are sending the application by email.
A much more interesting way to grab the hiring manager’s attention is to start with a specific anecdote highlighting why you are a great candidate. In The New Rules Of Work: The Modern Playbook For Navigating Your Career, the cofounders of career site The Muse shared examples of engaging cover letter introductions. Here is one:
While you won’t find the title “Community Manager” listed on my resume, I’ve actually been bringing people together online and off for three years while running my own blog and series of meet-ups.
2. WRITE IT LIKE A STORY, WITH A BEGINNING, MIDDLE, AND END
You want to brag about your impressive achievements and experience in your cover letter, but you don’t just want to restate what is on your resume. Otherwise, what’s the point of sending two separate documents? Fast Company associate editor Rich Bellis made this mistake in one application he sent for his second job out of college, and unsurprisingly never heard back from the hiring manager. Dana-Leavy Detrick, the founder/creative scribe at Brooklyn Resume Studio told Bellis that creating a compelling and unique narrative around yourself is something anyone can do at every level.
She went on to say, “Companies don’t just hire on requirements and qualifications–they also make hiring decisions based on culture fit and potential.” You can easily show this in a story that incorporates specific details on how your experiences can benefit the company.
3. TELL A COMPANY HOW YOU WOULD SOLVE A PROBLEM THEY’RE HAVING
Many candidates (especially those starting their careers) make the mistake of focusing too much on how the job will benefit them, rather than how they can benefit the company. As Drake Baer wrote in a 2013 Fast Company article, one of the best ways to show your value to the company is to understand their pain points and troubles, and then identify how you, as a candidate can help them. Beyond reading the news, you can try to organize an informational interview with people in the company (who aren’t your hiring manager) to find out more about their issues.
4. BUT DON’T GUESS WHAT THEIR CHALLENGES ARE IF IT’S NOT CLEAR
That being said, when you’re not inside a company, it’s easy to misidentify their problems. If it’s sensitive, current employees might not be entirely frank with you about what’s really going on. You can try to mitigate this by talking to more than one person, as well as former employees.
If it’s still not clear, articulate what you would do as a candidate if you were hired. Recruiter and professional resume writer Donna Svei called this an “opportunity letter.” Svei suggested writing about a time that you over-delivered on a project, and based on those experiences, how you’d bring that level of excellence to the role you’re applying for.
5. TAILOR YOUR COVER LETTER TO THE JOB DESCRIPTION, NOT THE COMPANY
It might seem obvious to you to link your experiences to the specific role, but you’d be surprised how many people fall into the trap of pitching to the company in general. As Buzzfeed’s recruiting operating manager Dan Geiger previously told Fast Company, a lot of entry-level hires spend their time talking about how great Buzzfeed is (something he already knows, because he works there.) According to Geiger, it’s better to show your enthusiasm “for the specifics of the role,” rather than the organization. After all, if you just wrote your cover letter with the company in mind, you’re making the recruiter and hiring manager do all the work. By tailoring your pitch to the role, you’re also demonstrating one key skill that many positions require–your ability to pay attention to details.