As a Career Coach, I am always asked, “Are cover letters required?” The question when preparing your job materials (resume, LinkedIn, interview prep) seems to be one at large. Then comes further questions, “Where do I begin when writing a cover letter? Is a cover letter relevant or important today?” Since these are questions I’m frequently asked, today, I’ll be sharing with you, my ultimate guide to writing cover letters.
I find it helpful to reframe this part of the job application process.
The investment I see in myself and the awesome skills I have developed, projects I have worked on, etc is not going to be shared otherwise. I need to share it with someone!
Well, I hope you are always sharing your career experiences with someone. What a great reminder that the cover letter is a document to do just that, share your career experiences (paid and unpaid, any experience that is relevant), your accomplishments, but more importantly, why it was so important for you to develop that skill, what you learned from overseeing a project on the team, or why it was important that you managed a team.
You can view the cover letter (also known as letter of intent/interest) as a personal letter. It helps recruiters place a face and the human you, to paper. According to Glassdoor, the average job opening attracts 250 resumes! Can you believe it?! Therefore attaching a cover letter with your resume can give you an extra space to stand out. While sharing relevant experience related to the job description and share the essence of who you are.
Here is where the fun begins. I want to inform you of how to get started, what to do before you start writing, and a simple breakdown of what to include on this one-page document.
Before you begin writing, I suggest the following:
Review the company’s website, LinkedIn page, and any news updates about the company to get an overall sense of their values, their mission and upcoming projects (bonus points for aligning yourself with these goals-they want to see that you are paying attention and this shows that you are already interested, giving some of your investment to the company).
Have the job description handy, and you may even want to drop your job description into a word cloud generator like this one here to see which keywords stand out, to include both on your cover letter and resume.
Next, you want to closely read the job description, highlighting the qualifications you have, but look for what the employer is seeking in a candidate beyond the qualifications. Study the company’s values and learn more about the company in the news. Is there anything that they are doing that is directly aligning with your work values and purpose that is important to you? If so, include this in your letter to make that connection for them and again, show how you will add value to their company.
Don’t be stingy on the details.
Be confidently specific and strategic when discussing your experiences with specific focus on things such as keywords that are used in the job description and your personal story. A great example of this is that I once worked with a client who was applying to a Marketing Director role for a well-known food product company. She wove in her personal story with her marketing experience, sharing that she is a mom with a pantry full of their specific brands, where she shares with other moms and kids her pantry and love of the brands.
Give yourself time to brainstorm. Before you begin writing the letter, think about how you will connect your past experiences and the interest you have for the company and position, and to understand your “why” for wanting to pursue this position.
Formatting The Letter:
One of the first and easy steps, your contact information. Always include your contact information either in the heading (a heading that matches your resume heading) or below your signature, which will close the letter.
Include a salutation. I know we all have super investigation skills. We can thank Facebook for teaching us how to stalk. Do yourself a favor and do some background investigation on the department via LinkedIn, the company website. Consider reaching out to any of your direct contacts to find a hiring manager for the position. If all else fails, you can direct your letter to the department that is hiring such as, “Dear Marketing Department Hiring Committee”
Hello, my name is Eden and I am applying for the X position at your company. Wrong. This is too generic, and I know you can introduce yourself with more bravado and grab the reader’s attention. You want to begin your letter with a convincing read me.
Here goes another try: “This last month, I was immersed in an article on the growing number of life coaches that would need to fill the market to solve every human’s problem. This struck me, as I want to help people not only solve problems for themselves but live a life in their careers with engagement, ease, and growth. As I fully invest in the coaching process with my clients, I want to also be part of a team of coaches to support one another with enriching our clients’ lives, all of which is why I want to be part of your dedicated and growing coaching team.”
Middle paragraph (s):
Show your enthusiasm in connecting your experience directly to the job description duties and preferred qualifications. The job asks that you have cross-team collaboration. Great. Share a direct experience that showcases a project you delivered while working cross-functionally with teams to deliver on this project/timeline/etc. You want to be sure you can easily connect the dots for the person reading the letter. Connecting the dots means that the reader can quickly comprehend that your past experience aligns with the common job duties and functions the role entails. It also shares more than your experience. They may want cross-functional team communication, great you have an example for that, can you share further. What was your communication style within the team? How did you engage with that work beyond communication, to show the company that your delivery will truly benefit them.
One last time to share your sense of why you want this position, while keeping it concise. The closure is also an area to address any gaps the employer may see in your resume such as work history gaps. Or maybe a significant industry change that you would want to address to not leave a missing puzzle piece.
Again, this goes back to connecting the dots for employers. We do not want the reader to be left to assume anything. Perhaps you don’t have any question marks and you are ready to get to work. If that’s the case, share your enthusiasm and go deeper with something like, “My enthusiasm for this role continues to grow due to the connection I have with your company values and personal value I see in the projects your team delivers. Being a Team Lead (insert title one last time in the closure) for your department is personal to me. It’s a role where I can see further professional growth and opportunity to expand the company’s business. Thank you for considering me for this position.”
Overall Best Practices:
Keep your letter formatted to one page. Anything over one page may not be read because of the length. You can surely fit all you need to fit into one page by being creative, direct, and staying true to yourself. Also, the cover letter is written in a first-person narrative. You want to use pronouns such as, “I” and “My” instead of referring to yourself in the 3rd person.
Try to engage the reader from the beginning. Simply stating that you are applying to “x position” is not enough. What can you say to draw them in right at the start? I applied to a non-profit some time ago and I made sure to start my letter with an opening that began as a story, where I shared about my experience tutoring an individual that led to a mentor/mentee relationship. Allow for creativity!
If it’s optional:
The job application may or may not ask or require a cover letter. Let us assure you, ALWAYS write the letter. Writing a cover letter gives you a leg up because you better believe most people will not write a letter if it is not required. This is also a way for you to connect and engage with the reader beyond your resume to give more personality, share more of your experience, tenacity and desire for the role that lies ahead.
Get an outside editor:
After you have your draft written, send it off to a trusted friend, colleague, or family member for a second set of eyes. I cannot recommend this step enough. Many times, we rely on word processing to catch any grammatical errors and often, there may be one or two edits that can be made (*double check on the salutation, the person or committee the letter is being addressed.)
*Oftentimes, once we have a template for a cover letter that has served us well in the past, we tend to use that to mass produce our job applications with said template. The plug and chug method. Don’t get me wrong, I have done this myself, sigh, because it is a time saver. However, you can certainly triple check the company you are addressing, the title and role you are applying to and ensure you are spending at least 30 minutes to 1-hour tops to connect your “Why” to the Employer’s “Why should we hire you?”
Be kind and patient with yourself while writing a cover letter.
Many people overthink writing the letter. I am all for you wanting to showcase your best communication. However, don’t be too critical here. Write a draft. Save it. Wait a day or two, give it a tried and true edit, and then send it off to your editor to review. If you are struggling to write get your thoughts out on paper, we have a cover letter coaching program to take you step-by-step through the process which is available for purchase here!