If I could compare the painstaking task of writing a cover letter to something just as cruel, it would be the torture of having to write a book report. Just the thought of wracking my brain for every mundane detail in a chapter is enough to make me cringe. Fifth grade was brutal. But alas, cover letters remain the best way to tell our story and are often times the only opportunity to sell yourself to a potential employer.
Mariyah S. Bryant, CEO of The MFactor LLC, a professional career consulting agency, says too many people make the mistake of having their cover letter sound identical to their résumé.
“The purpose of a cover letter is to introduce oneself to the potential employer and express one’s interest in a role,” Bryant tells 32 Letter. “Think of the career application process as a full course meal; the cover letter is the appetizer and the résumé is the main course.”
While your one-page résumé acts as a bulleted briefing of your entire work history, a cover letter is a tease of your career achievements and what you can offer a potential employer.
As you kick-start your search for that next big job, keep these golden nuggets in mind.
Get comfortable writing a cover letter — you’re going to be doing it … a lot
I have some bad news. To be a stand-out candidate in a crowded pool, you’re going to have to write a job-specific cover letter each time you send off a new application. I know what you’re thinking, “that’s going to slow me down.” Well, would you rather spend hours firing off batches of applications that match hundreds of others or send in one with a cover letter that vouches for your unique expertise? In this process, quality supersedes quantity. Here is your chance to express why you’re the best person for the job beyond just your work history.
Make your application scream “I’m the one”
A good cover letter can make a hiring manager ponder closing down the whole process before they get to the end of the page. The company should get the vibe that you are familiar with their audience or customer base and that you have the innovative ideas to bring them to the next level. Job postings are a signal that something is lacking in the system or that there is an internal problem that needs to be solved. You have to show them that you’re the one person who can patch up the ship before it sinks.
Cross-check your career summary with the job description
Before you get to step of editing spelling errors and grammar mistakes, you have to make sure the meat of your cover letter corresponds with the job description. We can easily fall into the trap of running down our generic experience without showcasing our assets.
“[Candidates] should have a good understanding of what is being asked for in the role that they are applying for and a good understanding of the value that they bring,” Bryant says. “A way of doing this is reviewing their professional experience, leadership, and the like, and drawing necessary skills from them.”
For example, if a social media manager job listing calls for someone with advanced knowledge in data analytics, you can name specific programs and describe how you crunched numbers with them in previous positions. You want to use every opportunity, if possible, to let a hiring manager know that a learning curve would be shorter with you.
Don’t forget about the logistics
It should go without saying that “To Whom It May Concern” is no longer a thing. If you really want the job, you should be Googling the LinkedIn page of the person you’d be sitting face-to-face with during an interview, and address your salutation to them directly.
“Also, you must state in at most three paragraphs how you heard about the opportunity, three core strengths and examples of those three strengths, a closing, and a signature,” Bryant adds.
And along the lines of what should be included in your cover letter, please leave off the details of what you do on Saturday night.
Bryant advises leaving “hobbies, interests, full descriptions of one’s work experience, and personal information that could give away a candidates age or marital status,” off the cover letter.
Showcase your personality
Let your résumé be the robot and allow your cover letter to be its much cooler friend. It’s acceptable here to express a little humor — just don’t go overboard. Speak about yourself “humbly and eloquently,” Bryant says. Choosing to bring a new person aboard a team is a huge investment for any company. Make it easy on the employer by showing them they would be working with someone who is easy going and can fit the culture.
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Images courtesy of CreateHerStock & MFactor LLC