Ah, writing the dreaded cover letter. The vital piece of the job hunt that almost no one enjoys. How can you possibly convey to an employer the depths of your awesomeness in just one page? Or, more importantly, what can you write to keep the reader engaged for the minute plus it takes to skim through one?
While writing great cover letters takes effort and practice, it’s imperative that you get that practice by a) including a cover letter with each application, and b) changing it for each job. No two jobs are exactly alike and therefore your cover letters should not be either. By tailoring your letter to the job you demonstrate to the reader both your understanding of the position as well as your desire to fill it. Speaking of the reader, always remember to address the letter to a specific person. Call the company, or check LinkedIn or the company site to avoid a generic greeting.
As a career coach, I always tell my clients that the key to writing a powerful cover letter is perspective. You have to put yourself in the position of the reader and think about what the employer needs to see in order to prove your value in the role. While you are writing, always keep this perspective in mind. Use the job description, both in terms of style and content, as well as other research on the company and position to suss out exactly why you are the perfect candidate. The following outline will make sure your cover letter actually contains this pertinent info:
1. First (short) paragraph–WHO are you?
This paragraph should grab the reader’s attention and announce your qualifications right away, e.g. “As a curator with over 10 years of experience building, producing, and executing art shows for my own gallery, I was inspired to see the MOMA’s posting for [X] position.” If a specific person referred you, make sure to drop her/his name in the first line. Getting a personal reference is the most important way to assure that your letter (and attached resume) will be read. This paragraph contains a quick sentence or two summing up your elevator pitch, e.g., “My extensive management training combined with a strong sales track record will allow me to immediately add value to your team.”
2. Second (longer) paragraph-WHY this job/company?
Here’s where you tailor the letter to demonstrate that you know why you want this particular position. Most job applicants skip this part completely! No employer will hire someone who can’t articulate what makes the job desirable, e.g., “Working as an engineer for [your company] would provide the exciting opportunity to innovate in a staid industry.” If you don’t express why you’re applying for this specific job, the letter will seem formulaic and have less of an impact. Even if you’re perfectly qualified for the position, the reader wants to see why YOU want this job. Explain to the employer how this job is suited for you as well as vice versa.
Do your research on the company and the particular role offered. Glassdoor and LinkedIn are helpful resources for research, but also read articles, talk to your network, and do your due diligence. This also ensures that you don’t waste your time applying to a job you never wanted in the first place.
3. Third (longest) paragraph-WHAT makes you a good candidate?
The real meat of the letter is in this paragraph, which communicates why you’re the best fit for the role. Remember the adage about writing, “show, don’t tell”? This portion is the perfect application of it. Instead of just listing your accomplishments, SHOW that you understand and appreciate the intricacies of the position by giving specific, translatable examples from your prior work. Something like, “By designing and orchestrating [x company’s] social media relaunch, I increased user engagement by [X] percent and drove traffic up by [X] page views. Some ideas I had for [your company’s] brand redevelopment include….”
Before you get started on this section spend some time carefully reading through the job description as well as any other ancillary research you’ve compiled on the employer and the job. Sometimes even highlighting the description line by line and taking notes about your correlating experience can be a productive starting point. Be sure to include the key terms mentioned in the listing.
4. Fourth (shortest) paragraph-SALUTATIONS and follow up details
The final section is where you summarize your qualifications, e.g., “Throughout my career, I have taken on diverse challenges and proven my ability to deliver positive results. I would be thrilled to further discuss the possibility of doing the same at [X].” In addition, be sure to offer references or other materials, state that you look forward to hearing from the company.
Now, about those resumes…
This article was originally published on GoGirl Finance.
Photo: markusspiske / Pixabay
The Four Paragraph Cover Letter
Let’s keep this simple, because above all, a cover letter needs to be simple. Why? Because you’re going to need to write a unique cover letter for every targeted position you apply to. That’s a lot of cover letters.
Identify where you saw the job posting (this helps the employer know what resources are working for them) and explain why you are applying for the position in a way that engages the reader’s interest. You may allude to your career goals/objective(s) in this first paragraph.
- I understand from a classified ad posted in the San Francisco Chronicle, that you have a need for an experienced sales professional for the West Coast area. I am very interested in learning more about the position and believe my recent work experience makes me an ideal candidate.
- My outgoing personality, my finance experience, and my recently completed education make me a strong candidate for a position as a Financial Analyst with your company.
- I wanted to apply for a position as a Salesperson with your company. I read a recent article which highlighted your company as one of the fastest growing leaders in the Business to Business sector.I would enjoy the chance to bring my proven track record in Sales to your team.
- I was very interested in pursuing the Product Marketing Position I saw advertised on your website.
Describe your recent skills, work experience and/or education. Start relating these to the position in question as far as possible. For example, concentrate on highlighting aspects of your past work which would help you fulfil the duties of this position.
- After finishing my Business degree, I was hired by Company X to help grow their West Coast territory. I was responsible for establishing and growing a number of different accounts in the Technology sector. During my employment, I was promoted to Senior Sales Representative and given the opportunity of handling larger, more established client accounts.
- As a recent graduate of the San Francisco School of Business, I put myself through school by working jobs in advertising sales and retail. I feel these business experiences helped solidify my work ethic and build on my formal education.
- This May, I will receive my BA degree from Highland University with a dual degree in economics and art history. I have recently completed my senior thesis exploring the development of poster art in America, for which I have been awarded academic honors.
- In my current role I manage the advertising on a Top 50 consumer website. My job requires that I act as an advocate for our internal sales staff as well as for our clients. I was intimately involved in the site redesign from an advertising sales perspective and helped roll out several new ad products.
Continue tailoring yourself to the job description in the hiring manager’s mind. Use the duties and requirements listed in the job posting to elaborate on what you would bring the company.
- I have very strong account management skills and enjoy helping my clients find solutions to their business and technology problems. In my last six months with my current company, I have brought in over 15% of the business, and have exceeded all of my sales goals.
- I believe I have the maturity, skills, and abilities to have a successful career as a Financial Analyst.
- At university, I focused my extracurricular efforts on writing and editing for the local newspaper. Subscriptions while I was an editor increased by 10 percent.
- I have excellent communication skills and have generally been regarded in my last two positions as an effective and affable team player. I like solving problems, changing minds and winning hearts. Although the role of Product Manager is a slightly new one for me, I feel my previous education, experience and unique skills lend themselves well to the expected and unexpected challenges this job will bring.
Request an interview and offer contact information.
- I look forward to speaking with you further regarding any Sales-related opportunities with Company X. I can be reached on my cell phone at (415) XXX-XXXX.
- I will be returning to California at the end of May, and would very much to talk with you concerning this position. I will follow up this letter with a phone call to see if I can arrange a time to meet with you.
- I intend to visit the Chicago area in early April to prepare for my move to the city this summer. I would appreciate the opportunity to meet with you during my upcoming trip to discuss the possibility of my employment with your company.
- I welcome further contact and would enjoy discussing this and potentially other positions with you.