By Hollis Beck
It can be a tricky piece of your application to get right, and there’s evidence that most hiring managers today don’t even read them. According to the 2017 edition of Jobvite’s Job Seeker Nation Study, only 26% of recruiters consider the cover letter an important part of the hiring process.
Putting that another way, though, that means that 1 in 4 people on the other side of your applications will expect a cover letter to go along with it. For the remaining 74%, a cover letter could be your chance to separate yourself from the pack. A cover letter is the best way to prepare yourself and the hiring manager for the interview process, an opportunity to describe yourself in your own terms and create the beginnings of a working relationship.
Put simply, the best cover letters answer the question every recruiter wants to know: why are you the best person for the job?
Your Opening Address
That’s right: you haven’t even begun talking about yourself yet, and you’re already being scrutinized. How you open your letter and address the people reading it is an important part of the cover letter and is the first way to make a great first impression.
When addressing a cover letter, you want to be as specific as possible. In an ideal world, you would address your letter directly to the hiring manager by name (“Dear Jane Doe…”). This information isn’t always readily available, so taking the time to do your research and identify the correct person to speak to shows initiative and a commitment to securing the job at hand. This is where your professional network can come in handy. Reach out to colleagues who might have connections to the company you’re applying for, or search around on LinkedIn to see if you can gather any information.
If, after your research, you still don’t know who the hiring manager is, you can address the department of the role you’re applying for. Try to be as specific as possible.
This part of your cover letter is likely the one that will change the most, depending on the position you’re applying for. The information you want to communicate includes:The title of the job you’re applying for
The skills you have that are necessary for the role, and
An aspect of the job that’s interesting to you
The way you organize this information can change depending on what kind of company you’re applying for. Whether you’re applying for a job in an established, professional environment or a more casual, down-to-earth start-up, jump right in and let the hiring manager know why you’re the best fit.
In your next paragraph, you should discuss your most recent full-time position and how that has prepared you for the role you’re applying for. The best way to do this is to pick a specific project you’ve worked on in the recent past and discuss not only the skills you used to complete it, but how the company benefited as a result.
A good strategy is to think of a challenge you had to overcome during the process. Maybe some last-minute obstacles appeared to hamper progress, or your team came across a unique roadblock that they’d never been tested against. You have the chance in a cover letter to showcase a brief, specific example of how you approach and overcome conflict, as well as the positive results of your actions. Be detailed, but not overly so. Ideally you’re saying just enough to make the reader curious and ask further questions in an interview setting.
You won’t always need this paragraph, but if you’d like to showcase another aspect of your work or leadership style, or discuss an achievement from earlier in your career, you may do so here. The same rules as the previous paragraph apply. If the job you’re applying for requires that you’re proficient in a number of tools or technologies, you can also create a brief bulleted list to draw the hiring manager’s eye and assure them that you have the basic knowledge required for the role.
Your sign-off should be confident and to-the-point, briefly reiterating why you’re a good fit for the role. Thank the hiring manager for their time, and express an interest in a formal interview.
Ultimately, the most important part of a cover letter is that you’re framing your accomplishments in a way that sounds natural to you. Certain companies may be more comfortable with casual language than others, and a good way to gauge this is by reading the job description. A company that’s asking for an “organizational ninja” might be put off if you sound too formal, and a corporate company might dismiss you if you start cracking jokes. Do as much research as you can on the company beforehand, and use the extra space the cover letter provides to let them know why you should work together.
Remember: at its best, a cover letter is all about making a connection.
Hollis Beck utilizes her background in creative fiction and performance to craft personalized content that positions executive-level professionals in various industries for the jobs they deserve. She works with clients to develop narratives that showcase their proudest achievements in a compelling and genuine way. Find out more at linkedin.com/in/hollis-beck.
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