Cover letters can be tricky business. There isn’t really a standard expectation for what should go into a cover letter, and many companies, hiring managers, and recruiters don’t pay them much mind, especially if they don’t really say anything. There are hundreds of templates online to help you write a standard cover letter, but in some cases, standard can be the problem. If you’re just replacing verbs and company names on various letters for various roles, you’re not saying anything new or meaningful about the role or your qualifications for it.
So, this week for our Job Seeker’s Guide to the Universe segment, we bring you Cover Letter Boot Camp: 7 Tips on Creating a Successful Cover Letter.
1. Think customized, not pre-packaged. Companies want to see that you’re truly excited about both the position and company, which means creating a custom letter for each position you apply for. When a recruiter reads, ‘Dear Hiring Manager, I am thrilled to apply for the open position at your company, where I hope to utilize my skills to progress in my career,’ he or she immediately recognizes it for what it is—a stock cover letter that you’ve most likely distributed to every company and recruiting agency around. And then probably throws it in the trash. Which means you need to…
2. …Tell a story. Use your cover letter as a chance to create a narrative of your professional background. What brings you to the company? You can include personal details that relate to your interest in the company, though you should keep them short and sweet. Does your family have a background in the industry? Did a personal experience spark your interest in the role or the company? Don’t go overboard on personal anecdotes, but be real and let your cover letter tell them a story about how you got to where you are, and what excites you about the role and the company.
4. And make it a good one. You want to use your cover letter as an opportunity to stand out as an individual and let the company know who you are, but not every little detail is relevant in a cover letter. In particular, veer away from going too deep into your educational background. It’s important to mention it to underscore your goals and passions, but you should be focusing more on what you’ve accomplished since graduating. Your work experience is much more pertinent to your future in a particular role than your education, because they are structured so differently.
4. Cut the formality (but not too much.) Consider leaving out some of the overly formal or ornamental language in your cover letter. Make sure to research the company extensively, and if it’s a particularly conservative company or their website seems super formal, ignore this piece of advice. But if they seem a little more edgy or heading in that direction, don’t be afraid to use slightly more casual language. It will make you seem relateable, while still professional.
5. Consider including testimonials. One of the best ways to distinguish yourself from other candidates is to provide testimonials from former employers highlighting your qualifications and passion as they relate to the role for which you’re applying.
6. Showcase your skills. Don’t use your cover letter to apologize for skills you don’t have, or especially to try and fudge skills that you don’t have. Use it as an opportunity to showcase the skills you do have, and how those skills will help you not only to thrive in the role, but to bring something new to the table.
7. Ask not what the company can do for you… but what you can do for the company. We have gone over a lot of critical factors that your cover letter should, well, cover. But I wanted to round it out with this final piece of advice: your primary concern when it comes to your cover letter should be to let the company know, in your own words, what you can bring to the company as an individual, and as a team member. It’s not the place to wax on about exactly what you are looking for in a job, but what you have to offer.