Write a Better Cover Letter: Three Things I Learned From My Career Coach, Part #1
You've found a job that's perfect for you, your customized resume is ready to go, and you're about to submit your application. Then you see it.
"Resumes without cover letters will not be considered."
Oh yeah. The cover letter.
Decision time. Do you search for another opportunity that doesn't require a cover letter, or develop a great cover letter that will get you an interview for the job you already found?
I love a good cover letter. First, it demonstrates to a potential employer that you're serious about the job and willing to put in extra effort from the get-go. And second, a cover letter is an opportunity to connect with the recruiter and encourage them to read your resumé...and then interview you!
Cover letters are written with a more personal tone than resumes. You've heard of "resume speak"? In a cover letter you can write in the first person, as if you're speaking to the recruiter face to face.
There are four paragraphs in a typical cover letter. Let's take a look at each paragraph.
The first paragraph is the most important one of all. There are lot of jobs out there, but in the first paragraph you get to explain why you are so passionate about this job, and it should be written in a unique and compelling way. The more personal and authentic, the better.
In her article, 3 Elements of a Killer Cover Letter, Jenny Foss suggests that we "grab them at hello" by drawing them in to our story right at the beginning. She goes on to say,
And in any instance you can drum one up, use a personal anecdote . This will not only affirm your specific interest and understanding of the organization, it’ll also help position you as an interesting, likable human – and one with a cool story.
Just like in great songs and great speeches, your cover letter should start with an attention getter. I tried this technique when I applied for a role earlier this year and was scheduled for an interview within days. Have a look at the first paragraph of the cover letter below. To protect the innocent, I'll call the company "Energy Company".
My interest in the energy industry began in 2007 when I took a graduate course on alternative energy and read “The End of Oil” by Paul Roberts. Since then I’ve bookmarked the energy industry as one I’d like to help shape, as I see energy efficiency as a critical part of our future.
If you use the company's product, say so in your first paragraph. As a customer of the company you have experience using its product or service and a unique end-user perspective that makes you more valuable as an employee.
Here's an example from a cover letter I submitted to a company whose products I use regularly. I'll call the company "Tech Company".
True story: I’ve spent the last week migrating my current content to the Tech Company platform. Why? The unlimited storage, the mobile optimization, and the remarkably clean and professional look.
This cover letter also resulted in an interview during which the recruiter stated that my experience with their product gave me a competitive advantage over other candidates. Boom! I'm glad I included that in the cover letter.
The second paragraph is where you list the evidence that you are qualified for the position. Personally, I include a bulleted list of three to five accomplishments or skills to add variety and get right to the point. Here is an example from one of the nation's top interview coaches Pamela Skillings.
I am also known for my ability to help identify and implement key technology and process improvements. I am well-versed in Six Sigma methods and have lead projects which produced significant and sustainable savings. Other examples of my work include:
• Created positive employee engagement for 2,000+ personnel at Company XYZ via proactive communications, prompt issue resolution, and fair/equitable treatment.
• Led Six Sigma project related to FMLA administration and online orientation programs for Lean Belt training.
• Proved instrumental in the deployment of an E-recruitment system that serviced a Fortune 200 company; defined policies, procedures, and communication planning for the project.
Here is where you answer the question: Why should I hire you? As briefly as possible, make the case for why you are a good fit.
The values at the heart of Energy Company, unequaled service and innovation, clean energy, and customer education, really speak to me and I love that Energy Company saves money for it’s clients and creates incentives that drive responsible behavior.
The last paragraph is your call to action. Like the rest, it's nice and short. Just enough to make your call to action and express some professional enthusiasm.
I welcome the chance to discuss your business objectives for the Incentives Manager role and how I can help you achieve them. Feel free to call me to arrange a meeting. I look forward to speaking with you.
Putting It All Together
I recommend keeping your cover letters to 300 words or less. Recruiters may see reading long cover letters as a chore and skip it, and you, altogether. Don't let a large block of text keep you from getting an interview! We're going for brief, conversational and concise.
Once you add Date, Address, Salutation, and the position you are applying for at the top of the letter, you're ready to stand back and have a look. Here is the finished product in 218 words.
March 10, 2016
Sr. Recruiter, Energy Company
123 SW Jeff Buckley Ave
Re: Incentives Manager Vacancy
Dear (Recruiter's Name),
My interest in the energy industry began in 2007 when I took a graduate course on alternative energy and read “The End of Oil” by Paul Roberts. Since then I’ve bookmarked the energy industry as one I’d like to help shape, as I see energy efficiency as a critical part of our future. (Paragraph 1)
Here’s what I can deliver in this role:
- Leadership, mentorship, training, and support with an authentic and engaging personality
- Extensive experience and an intimate knowledge of call center operations
- Attention to detail and an unwavering commitment to achieving results
- A knack for identifying inefficiencies and recommending solutions
- The courage to take initiative and follow through (Paragraph 2)
The values at the heart of Energy Company, unequaled service and innovation, clean energy, and customer education, really speak to me and I love that Energy Company saves money for it’s clients and creates incentives that drive responsible behavior. (Paragraph 3)
I welcome the chance to discuss your business objectives for the Manager role and how I can help you achieve them. Feel free to call me to arrange a meeting. I look forward to speaking with you. (Paragraph 4)
Now, when you see "Resumes without cover letters will not be considered", you'll be confident that your cover letter will not only allow you to submit your resumé, it will speak to the recruiter in a way that will get you noticed and increase your chances of getting that interview. Good luck!
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on cover letters? Leave me a comment below and read more at my website www.milesshattuck.com.