So, you have the basics of the layout for a good cover letter. You’re actually writing one. You’re well represented by a professional email address and voice mail message. You have a killer (standard business professional) layout.
Let’s get down to business on your content. (to defeat the Huns… YAAAH!) (<- Movie quote. Ten points of you get it.)
Most folks think that cover letters are just another opportunity to give them your resume contents. That sounds like a good idea. *Smacks hand* NO. WASTE OF TIME. BAD. BORING.
So, what do you put in your cover letter?
A better question is “what is the point of this cover letter?”
A cover letter is a golden opportunity. A cover letter is your chance to set yourself apart.
How? Glad you asked.
- A good cover letter shows that you’re willing to go above and beyond the bare bones requirements. As a potential employer, I want to hire the person who is going to put in the extra work to do a truly great job.
- A good cover letter allows you to show how well you can write. Anyone can write pages and pages of text and manage to sprinkle in a few things about how awesome they are. But it takes a truly good writer to communicate well in short writing formats. (Short=one page only. For the whole letter. True story.)
- A good cover letter shows a potential employer how well you understand them. Sure, you can put all of your information in a resume. But can you read a job posting a glean what they really want out of it? Can you do extra research to understand the company and demonstrate how well you understand them by writing well about them?
So, now that we know WHY we’re writing a cover letter and it’s proper formatting, we can delve into contents.
- DON’T use your precious cover letter space to regurgitate your resume. NO. BAD IDEA. Instead, use it to paint a lovely picture of yourself. Interested in being a full time teacher? Use your space to talk about how valuable you learned quality education was while you were volunteering as a tutor in college.
- Demonstrate that you have a good idea of what they’re about and who they’re looking for. Do they want someone who has excellent research skills? Don’t spend most of your space waxing eloquent about how much value you draw from spending time with other humans.
- Walk the line between self-confident and cocky. Don’t sell yourself short, but don’t oversell yourself. If you’re really good at Microsoft Word, carefully choose whether or not you’re “Advanced” or “Expert”. Say that you see yourself fitting well into their corporate culture and team, but if you don’t have years of experience with that software, just say that you’re familiar with it.
- Don’t tell them what you’re bad at. Cover letter real estate is limited. You get maybe… three paragraphs if they’re short. You don’t need to tell them what problems you have. They’ll figure it out. Point them to your positives. If you don’t know one software that they require, say that you’re technologically adept and a fast learner. Don’t say “I have no idea how to use Oracle”.
- Keep is honest. Paint yourself in a positive light, but don’t ever lie. If you’re caught at a later date after you get a job, even if it’s ten years later, you can still be fired. Be honest.
- Write a new cover letter for each job that you’re applying for. It looks lazy if your cover letter is just a standard letter that would work for each job you apply to. It shows a reviewer that you didn’t spend that much time on them. It’s perfectly fine to use the same letter as a base for your application, but you need to customize each letter for each job that you’re applying for. (See number four.)
- Use their words. I encourage you to print out the job posting. Highlight all of the important words. And then use them about yourself. How? Say a job posting says “Must be able to work in collaboration with colleagues” (translation= must play nice with others. Must be a team player.) Use the word “collaboration” or “collaborated” in your cover letter.
- Proof your cover letter at least three times, and then have someone else proof it for you. When you’re working very closely with a document, you read what you think you wrote instead of what’s actually on the page. Be careful and cautious with your proofing.
How is your cover letter writing going? What other job application help could you use?