How to Write an Incredible Cover Letter

How to Write an Incredible Cover Letter

Your cover letter may be the first impression many employers get when they review your application.  Before the selection team gets to your resume, they will read this document to get a sense of your writing style and your personality.  You want to stand out so they can’t wait to check out your resume.

However, your cover letter is currently shitty, isn’t it?  That’s why you’re here, am I correct? 

Not to worry, because writing a cover letter is actually pretty easy.  But it IS time consuming and you will need to do research.  Research, of course, that you should have completed already when you decided to apply for the job.  AND – if you read my post on creating a Strengths-Focused Resume, then you probably also tweaked your resume a bit for this job application.

Let’s get started.

1.  DO.  NOT.  USE.  A.  FORM.  LETTER. WHERE.  YOU.  JUST.  CHANGE.  THE.  ADDRESS.

I’m sorry, that may sound unreasonably harsh – but McPeak, I don’t have that kind of time.  Suck it up, my friends, because seasoned recruiters and managers can smell a cover letter template from across the street.  And if you are really rushing through these letters, you run the risk of forgetting to change the salutation name, or the name of the position, or (god forbid) the name of the employer.  This is just bush-league, y’all.  Think about what Crash Davis says:  “Think classy, you’ll be classy.”

2.  Cover Letter Content

You will want to highlight three specific areas in your letter:  what you can do, specifically how you do it, and why them.

Explain?  Sure.

Initially, capture their attention by highlighting your previous experience in relation to what the company is looking for.  How do you figure this out?  You grab a copy of your resume and a copy of the job description.  Look for the qualifications and then compare your skills to those required qualifications.

Example:

Let’s say you are applying for an account manager position at an advertising agency.  The position requires a Bachelor’s Degree, management skills, communication skills, and decision making skills.  Peruse your resume and find what fits.  Write a very general paragraph about this.  Do not get specific in this paragraph.

In the next paragraph, you are going to explain specifically how you have done these things in the past.  Again, refer to your resume.  Check that job description for something called “representative duties” or “responsibilities” – what are you being expected to do in this job.  Do you see any matches?  Great!  Write about them.

Example:

The job description features duties such as identifying clients, develop standards for pricing, or carry out market research.  What have you done in your previous jobs that demonstrates this?

“During my internship and College Intern Company, I assisted account managers with developing price packages for ad placement.  As an entry level professional at First Job Out of College Company, I worked on a small team developing surveys, questionnaires, and focus groups for our account managers.  I was also given the opportunity to shadow an account manager developing a client profile.”

Why Them?  You gotta make them feel special because they have to know that you have thought about them as a company.  That you will add value.  Therefore, show them you understand their vision.

Basically, you will achieve this by visiting the company website and looking for “about us” or “who we are” pages.  Find their mission and vision.  And then write a couple strong sentences about how your values match theirs.

Example:

Here’s something that was found on Apple’s main website:

“Apple is committed to bringing the best personal computing experience to students, educators, creative professionals and consumers around the world through its innovative hardware, software and Internet offerings.”

Why is this important to you?  And what have you done in your career that aligns with these values?

“I have been fascinated with computers since I was a young child; I always had to be the first person in school to have the new technology or device.  So I share Apple’s values of bringing the best computing experiences to its customers.”

OR

“What has been most exciting about my academic program at Current College was learning coding and software development.  I feel very strongly about Apple’s mission to provide excellent software to consumers around the world.”

Does this make sense?

3.  Your cover letter tells a story

My cover letters are narrative in that I pare down my entire career into a few themes.  In addition, I list very specific examples of how I can contribute to their department or company when they hire me.  I use classic narrative storytelling features:  there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end.

The Beginning

“Since 1991 I have worked in higher education, spending most of those years as a Residence Life and Orientation professional. As a department leader and supervisor, I have helped many post-masters professionals find their way within our field and assisted many paraprofessional students unleash their potential. As a teacher, I have inspired students to embrace learning opportunities.”

“What I Can Do”

I’m now telling them what I’ve done in the past that makes me qualified for the position, because I’ve outlined in this paragraph that I have supervisory experience.  Additionally, I’m describing my teaching and training experience.

The Middle

“I am a highly active collaborator and enjoy working with staff in other departments. I believe in building strong relationships, which is the key to development and fundraising. I’ve managed volunteers for annual conferences and expositions. Outside of my career in higher education, I expanded my horizons through Team in Training, a division of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The mentor experience really drove home the message of structured fundraising and what it really feels like to build a team from a group of strangers.”

“How I Did It”

As you can see, the paragraph above outlines some specific ways that I have achieved these skills in the past.  As a result, they read more about my skills and get examples on how I put those skills to work.

Maybe you’d like to see more of how I have structured my cover letters over the years?  Then email me here and I will send you samples.  No sense making this blog post crazy long!

4.  You give THEM a call to action!

Finally, your concluding paragraph should close things out with you being positive, not cocky, and thanking them for their consideration.

“I believe I would be a great fit and valuable team member at Corporation of the Year.  I look forward to discussing my qualifications with you at your convenience.  You may contact me at the phone number on my resume.”

Consequently, you get a closing that is simple, polite, confident, and to the point.

In conclusion, get to work!  Suffice to say that this IS a research project as much as it is a writing project.  It’s very important that you treat your potential future employers with respect and admiration.  They should definitely feel your interest in their position and their business.

Also, for additional information related to job searches, see my posts on Strengths-Focused Resumes and Preparing for Job Interviews.

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