Write a Cover Letter in 10 minutes or less & get noticed
If you’ve ever given up on applying to a job because of the cover letter requirement, listen up – it’s not as daunting as it may seem.
As much as we may try to avoid them, there are many companies that require cover letters as a part of their application process. You’re only doing yourself a disservice by overlooking what could otherwise be a perfectly matched job opportunity.
Once you know how to approach the cover letter, it’s actually relatively easy to get through the initial screening. Most people avoid cover letters for one of three reasons:
1. The purpose of the cover letter is not evident or known
2. A cover letter seems like a waste of time
3. They don’t know what to write even if they wanted to compose a cover letter
Here’s your guide to cover letters – including what to mention, how to get noticed, and one way you can usually get out of a cover letter altogether.
Identify the purpose of the Cover Letter
You might assume that everything important should be covered in your resume, right? Not exactly; your resume is a high-level summary of your experience and accomplishments, while the cover letter allows you to differentiate yourself in a few key ways:
- Showcase your writing abilities. Many companies will use the cover letter as an informal ‘writing test’ to make sure you know the basics and can communicate effectively. Read back through the job description to learn if written communication is important for the role.
- Distinguish yourself from the hundreds of applicants who upload a cover letter without any personalization or even a minimal amount of effort. Take five minutes to look up the company’s employees on LinkedIn or their website and address your cover letter to the right person – avoid “Dear Sir or Madam.” LinkedIn often list the person who posted the position.
- Demonstrate a real interest in the company AND the specific position. Fast Company identifies ‘interest in the position’ among the key purposes of the cover letter; too many applicants simply reference how great the company is while failing to address how they can contribute to the specific role. Be as specific as possible – look through the job description and match 2-3 specific instances in your career that are applicable.
- Contextualize a particular point on your resume – be it a leave of absence, a few short tenures, or even something positive like a program you pioneered which may be relevant to this position. This is your opportunity to elaborate on what might not translate well in a resume.
- Offer a point of connection, like the fact that you were referred to the position by a mutual friend or business contact.
Make time for your Cover Letter
You spend a minimum of eight hours a day, five days a week at your job – so make sure you are finding the right role, salary and cultural fit for you. The degree to which you take your search seriously will be directly reflected in the kind of offers you are extended. Put in the effort, make the time, and you’ll be rewarded with offers you are genuinely excited to accept.
The key is brevity. In a Harvard Business Review article entitled “The Best Cover Letter I Ever Received,” author David Silverman identifies a three-sentence letter as the height of perfection. The letter offers a quick intro, three ‘what I can offer’ points, and concludes with a call to action. It’s direct without being curt, and it likely took no more than five minutes to complete.
In a world where a large majority of jobs have ‘Quick Apply’ buttons, it’s crucial that you put in the extra effort to set yourself apart. Take advantage of the fact that most people will not want to write a cover letter; it’s an opportunity for you to stand out from the crowd.
How to get started on your Cover Letter
Not sure how to best present yourself? Follow these easy steps:
1. Start simple; state the position you’re applying for and how you found it. It may seem like a dry opening, but it’ll help the reader keep track of you and your application. (i.e. “I found your Technical Support Supervisor position in my LinkedIn search for small software companies in need of someone with four years of experience managing a technical support team and a dedicated background in communicating with 40+ customers per day for all technical needs.”)
2. Jump into an anecdote. Make yourself relatable – don’t regurgitate the same five lines said by every applicant throughout the history of online applications. Focus in on how you solved a problem, or why you have a passion for your work, or what pain points you’ve solved for your past company and how they apply here.
3. Use that short anecdote as a springboard for your more general qualifications. Pull out important details and themes that match the job description.
4. Quantify your accomplishments in numerical terms. Instead of saying ‘I have ample experience with Java,’ try ‘I have X years working in Java and related languages, during which time I trained Y employees on our proprietary software. Under my supervision, our team grew from Y to Z in X years.’
5. Take this opportunity to contextualize your resume, without simply summarizing. You may want to address:
A personal leave or gap for medical/travel/family
A short term contract
A position that closely aligns with the one you’re targeting
6. Showcase your enthusiasm. Having done some research on the job and/or company, reference why it’d be a pleasure to work there. Explain why you think you’d be a great addition, and how you’d add to their existing culture. Reference Yelp, Glassdoor, the company’s website and social media, recent press releases – whatever you’ve found, show that you’ve put in the work. The more details you can point to with genuine interest and curiosity, the more you’ll impress the hiring manager.
7. End with gratitude and re-state your enthusiasm. Always include your availability for next steps and a specific call to action: ‘You can reach me at (xxx) xxx xxxx to discuss next steps.’
8. Carefully reread your cover letter, scanning for any inconsistencies or grammatical mistakes. A mistake in your cover letter can cost you the position – hiring managers and recruiters use it as an easy screening tool to filter candidates. To be safe, have a friend read it before hitting send. You can also use Grammarly or a similar tool to help surface difficult-to-spot errors.
Want to skip the Cover Letter entirely?
Even armed with all the guides and templates in the world, there are simply not enough hours in the day to research and write personalized cover letters for every position that may be a good fit.
Let a recruiter act on your behalf as your cover letter – we use our phone conversations and in-person meetings to get a stronger understanding of who you are, what you’re looking for, and how your skills and background align with particular roles and companies. We then communicate that information to hiring managers, framing your experience with reference to their specific needs.
No one likes writing cover letters, and luckily you can often avoid them by partnering with a recruiter. Next steps? Send me your resume at firstname.lastname@example.org for cover letter help or to skip the process altogether.