Let's Cover the Cover Letter
Updated: Oct 18, 2020
I recently wrote about the 4 ways a cover letter can help your candidacy stand out to recruiters in a sea of applicants. In a Twitter poll I ran geared toward HR professionals and hiring managers, 57% of respondents said they “absolutely” read cover letters. Another 29% said they do “depending on position.” Only 14% said they don’t bother. The odds of your cover letter getting read are quite high, so writing a good one is important.
It’s true that some electronic applications do not allow fields for uploads or even require a cover a letter, and in those cases, don’t sweat it. But if an application DOES allow for a cover letter, either required or optional, take the time to write a good one and it will pay off.
A well-written cover letter is unique, specific, and honest. It avoids clichés (please do not say you multi-task, and obviously you’re looking for a new position that will allow you to use your existing skills, because that’s what job hunting is) and it gets personal without getting unprofessional. It’s short – three paragraphs is a good length, and definitely one page; and it should be - wait for it - actually fun for the hiring manager to read.
If you’re starting to think you might need an English degree to write a good cover letter, relax. You just need to be a little reflective, a little bit human, and stay professional. Spell check will take care of the rest. Do some homework before you write your letter to learn as much as you can about the company. Determine from their website and social media if you should use a formal tone or if you can relax a bit; review their core mission and values, and learn what they do and who they do it for before you write. Then:
1. Customize it.
It’s okay to start with a cover letter template you find online, but you have to customize it for the company and position you’re applying for. It should go without saying that you should address it as personally as you can. If you can find the hiring manager’s name online, address it directly to them. Then get into the body of your letter. A generic letter that begins “I am a marketing professional seeking a new opportunity, and saw your position advertised on LinkedIn” will get ignored. A letter that clarifies, “I saw your Marketing Strategist position on LinkedIn and had to apply. I am a marketing professional with 10 years’ experience, and am ready to put my past experience in retail strategy to work moving your brand and business forward” will get noticed.
2. Don’t talk about your skills, talk about your accomplishments.
Your skills are for your resume, your cover letter is for your accomplishments. Find the balance between overselling yourself and taking pride in the good work you’ve done. “I have used Mailchimp” is a skill; “I leveraged Mailchimp to craft engaging email campaigns that received open rates of 92%” is an accomplishment. “I increased online sales by 85%” is boasting; “I collaborated with our marketing department to develop an email and social media marketing campaign that resulted in an 85% increase in online sales” is worth showing pride in.
3. Talk values
Workplace values, of course, not personal values. Companies now understand that they must hire for culture first and skills second. They want to make sure candidates will embrace their mission and values, so do some legwork to understand what those values are and talk about how you align with them. Instead of, “I am seeking a new opportunity that will allow me to leverage my graphic design skills,” talk about what experiences or approaches you embrace that are also important to the company: “I believe that good design is about collaboration. I thrive on partnering with my clients to understand their vision and to work alongside them to bring it to life. I know XYZ Company has achieved its success on the basis of collaboration, which is why I believe my approach to design would align well with your organization.”
4. Get personal (but not weird)
If you’re applying for a position with an organization or brand that you have either worked with or are genuinely excited by, share your experience – just stay professional. “My family has been shopping with XYZ Company since I can remember, and your kind employees were what kept us coming back. I would be honored to join a team that shares the values of kindness and courtesy that I have carried with me through my career” is personal yet business-focused; “I have always dreamed of working with you” or “I use your product every day!” is TMI and a little creepy.
Yes, it takes time, but composing a unique, creative, and above all, honest cover letter will get you noticed early in the hiring process. Take the time to do it and get ready to rock those interviews.