A new approach to cover letters

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In my last article Do cover letters still matter? we went over whether or not a cover letter is right for you.

This article is about how to write a meaningful cover letter that is pertinent and that has impact.

I think at some point we have all written a cover letter that sounds something like this:

“Dear Recruiter,

Kindly accept my résumé for the position of ______. I am interested in being a part of your growing and dynamic organization… “

There is nothing wrong stylistically with this format, but it certainly does not separate you from the pack nor does it add a human element to your résumé.

In my opinion, a strong cover letter answers the following questions:

  1. Who you are
  2. Why the position interests you
  3. Why you can and will do the job
  4. What you bring to the table that is different from anyone else

Finally, we will explore the cover email later in this article.

Who you are

When describing who you are, you want to briefly summarize your professional knowledge and experience. Some examples of the facts you could include would be:

  • The number of years you have been in your profession
  • Certifications, associations, accreditations or awards
  • The school and program you graduated from

Why the position interests you

You are not interested in the position because it is “an interesting challenge”. There is a specific reason why you are interested. Is this position the next step in your career? Does this position allow you to do something you have always wanted to do? If it is the company that’s attracting you, why this company over another one? Find your why, then find a positive and professional way to express it. No one wants to read that you’re trying to escape your lousy job or your micromanaging boss.

Why you can and will do the job

Answering these question will help you to add depth to your cover letter and avoid filler sentences such as “I am punctual and a hard worker”.

When answering why you can do the job, think about what it is specifically that you have done or are doing in your current job that would make you a good candidate. This speaks to your experience.

By answering why you will do the job, this speaks to your motivation. What is it that will keep you going after the honeymoon period is over? By answering this question yourself, you are explaining what drives you, which has a lot more impact than “I am motivated by the prospect of joining your organization”.

What you bring to the table that is different than anyone else

If you are able to answer this question in your cover letter, you will succeed in sparking the image that you are a person beyond your résumé. Why? Because answering this question requires self-awareness, maturity and professionalism.

No matter what your job is, you infuse it with something special. What is that?

I will give you an example that I witnessed first hand. At one of my companies, our receptionist took it upon herself to learn basic greetings in another language so that callers would feel welcomed regardless of their level of English. At first glance, you would think that a receptionist has a somewhat routine job to answer the phone and greet guests. But what she did differently was that she cared about how the callers and guests felt and understood that her actions reflected positively on the company. If you had to hire a receptionist, would this information make you want to interview her?

By answering this question, you will bring an authenticity to your cover letter that is seldom seen in run-of-the-mill templates. This will be memorable and distinguish you from the pack.

Putting it all together

These four points will give you enough material to fill a page, which is the absolute maximum length a cover letter should be. Once you have written it, have someone proofread it to make sure that your letter is free of typos and grammatical errors. I cannot stress this enough: it is important for hiring managers to know that their potential employee has the ability to present information in a complete yet concise manner and that it will be error-free. It has happened several times that a manager has  corrected mistakes and I can assure you, those candidates started off with a strike against them. You don’t want this to happen to you.

The Cover Email

In some cases, a formal cover letter would be overkill or may make you appear that you are stuck in the past. The best way to get around this is with a cover email. In the cover email, you would still address these four points, however you would do so by answering each in once sentence. This will put your editing skills to the test, however it will have an impact and make your candidacy stand out.

If you are using the cover email as an introduction to attachments which contain your cover letter and résumé, you can also use these four points as the outline to your email. You will be able to communicate your application effectively without repeating the exact sentences in your cover letter.

I hope these tools will help you to stand out from the pile of applicants and get interviewers excited to meet you!