*The single, most important thing about a cover letter is…
It needs to be clear.
Clear about what? About how great of a candidate you are for this job. About why the hiring manager should give the job to you and not someone else.
So how do you do that? Here’s another handy-dandy bullet list O=]
- Tell your reader the things you’ve done, the qualities you possess … the most important reasons you have what they’re looking for (ie. what they wrote in their job description) — this means, that first you need to look at that job description closely! It tells you everything you need to know: the qualities and experience they want. Once you know that, take a look at all your experience and determine which are most relevant. Once you’ve got that…
- Don’t drown your most important facts out. A cover letter is not a novel, nor is it a resume. It shows your reader 1.) you have good communication skills (proofread!), 2.) you understand what they’re looking for, and most importantly, 3.) you have what they want. This is not where you list everything you’ve done, this is where you highlight your most important / relevant achievements and qualities. Keep it short — you want your reader to focus on the good stuff.
- Use a good outline (to organize your cover letter.) The standard one goes: 1.) Why your company is amazing, and wonderful, and the bestest! (aka the suck-up), 2.) Why I’m the greatest thing since sliced bread, and 3.) Call me, maybe! Instead… let’s try this: I have what it takes to do this position because 1.) I’ve done this before, so I know what it takes, 2.) I’m hardworking and willing to learn what I may not know yet, 3.) I am free for interviews at this and this time and will follow up with you next week if I don’t hear back from you.
- What if you don’t have previous experience? Use the key words in the job description and highlight the things you’ve done that helped you develop those skills. It can be community service, it can be a school project, just make sure you’re very clear and use an example to show you’ve got the skill(s) they’re looking for.
- Be concise. The ONLY point of this letter is to convince your reader that a.) they should read your resume, and b.) you would make a great employee for that specific position. Stay on task: don’t go on and on about unrelated experience you have (they won’t care and may even resent you wasting their time = no interview) and don’t spend more than a few lines showing you did some research about the company. Yes, you do want to show you did research, but it’s not the most important thing you have to tell them.
- Tailor it to each position you’re applying for. Do they all ask for exactly the same thing? Most likely not… so why send all of them the same cover letter? I know it sounds like a lot of work, so I recommend picking only the ones you’re really interested in and doing 1-3 per day. Sound feasible?
Thought you might wonder what that looks like, so here is a copy of the one I wrote when I applied to my current position (recruiting coordinator)
Details on the job description: I no longer have a copy of it, but it mentioned they were looking for someone with recruiting experience, an interest in tech / IT, international experience as well as experience working with Google Apps and SalesForce.
Now, for the cover letter ;D
To whom it may concern,
I’m writing you because I am very interested in your Recruiting Coordinator position. I read the job description on Craigslist and immediately thought it sounded like a great opportunity.
Your ad stood out because it seemed like an exciting, rewarding position with a lot of potential. As you can read in my resume, I have taken part in recruitment at Contract Live, a technology startup in Paris, France, as well as during my two and a half years volunteering for AIESEC. It was not supposed to be one of my main tasks, but I enjoyed it so much that I took care of it on the side anyway.
Your ad also caught my eye since I almost felt like it was written for me. I’ve worked for two technology startups and like to attend tech and startup events. I also have international experience: I did a summer internship in Bahrain (in the Middle East) two years ago and also worked in Paris for 6 months this year. I speak French fluently, Japanese very well, and have started Mandarin and know how to use Google Apps and SalesForce from my year doing sales for AIESEC. I hope this cover letter gives you enough confidence in my written communication skills to convince you I’m worth bringing in for an interview!
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter and for your consideration. I will be available for an interview Wednesday and Friday this week.
Looking forward to hearing back from you,
Hope this helps! Please leave questions in the comments section (I often get the same ones, so this way I can answer each one once and y’all can read my answers ;D)
*This post is not about form, you can find plenty of good resources on that all over the internet. It’s about something that’s a littler more difficult to get right, content.
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