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April 04, 2016

How to Write a Cover Letter: The Ultimate Guide

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How to Write a Cover Letter...

By Charley Mendoza, Freelance Blogger, Copywriter, Social Marketer

Recruiters and hiring managers have different opinions about the role and importance of cover letters. Some say its purpose is to get your resume read, others say it's to get you an interview. Whichever end of the spectrum you fall on, it's important to know how to write a good one.

As Steven Rothberg of College Recruiter says, "Candidates should include cover letters because there's no harm in providing one to someone who will disregard it, but there is harm in NOT sending a cover letter to someone who prefers to receive one."

Not including a well written cover letter in your application can lead to you being ignored and passed over by hiring managers. You should avoid this pitfall and put the necessary time into carefully crafting your cover letter.

The Common Problem With Most Cover Letters

A haphazard, copy-paste letter can make even the most promising applicant look like a throwaway. Unfortunately, most of the cover letters practically read the same, "I'm writing to you to express my interest in X job that you advertised in Y website." Worse yet is the self-centered, "I'm interested to work for you because..."

The people reading your application aren't interested in what you want. They want to know what you can bring to the table. A well-written cover letter helps you stand out from the crowd, get your resume reviewed, and an interview secured. In this tutorial, you'll learn how to put together a great cover letter.

1. Prepare What to Include In Your Cover Letter

Before putting anything on paper, you need a detailed understanding of the job and the ideal candidate the employer is looking for.

Step 1. Learn More About the Company

Look at the company's About page and other marketing materials to find relevant information. Their copy's tone and team background will tell you everything you need to know about their culture, and the style of writing you should aim for. For instance, if the team is mostly 20 to 30 something professionals, then casual language will work great. But if it's a huge multinational with a solid corporate hierarchy, then a conservative writing style might work better.

Read the job ad and list down the skills, tasks, and experience they're looking for - in your own words. In another column, write down examples of how you have previously demonstrated those traits. This will form the basis of your cover letter.

Step 2. Who Will Read Your Application?

Is it a recruiter, the hiring manager, or the assistant or manager of a small family-run business? Whoever it is, that person has specific preferences or biases that affect the candidate screening process. Besides, addressing your cover letter to the right person already puts you way ahead of the competition. Look up their LinkedIn and other social media accounts. List down anything you can use as an ice breaker, such as a common interest, or mutual connection. Just be discreet, don't invite them to be a connection or friend.

Step 3. Perform Informational Interviews

Setting up informational interviews is a good option to consider for deeper preparation, as they can help you to understand the role you're applying for more comprehensively.

Look for people in your network that currently work, or have previously worked for your target company. It doesn't matter if they're in the same line of work, or in another department, your goal is just to do a bit of extra digging. Invite them for coffee or lunch, then ask questions you weren't able to uncover in your online search.

2. Write Your Cover Letter

Before you write one paragraph of your cover letter, begin by addressing the right person. Don't use "Dear Sir/Madam", or "To Whom it May Concern." Never use "Dear Recruiter."

Step 1. Grab Immediate Attention (First Paragraph)

Lead with a referral, or mention of the person you talked to for an informational interview. But if you don't have any of these, try an unusual introduction. "I can't sell ice cubes to Eskimos, but I can sell them blocks of ice for ice carvings."

No one gets overly excited about cookie-cutter skills and accomplishments. Recruiters see the words 'team player' and 'creative' every day. Try opening with an impressive accomplishment or job title and/or connect the job ad's keywords with your skills and passions.

Step 2. Craft Your Pitch and USP (Second Paragraph)

The first paragraph is to lure the reader in, while the second paragraph should answer the million dollar question, "Why should I hire you?"

Here, you'll explain what differentiates you from other candidates using your Unique Selling Proposition (USP), and why that makes you the best fit for the job. Ask yourself these questions to create one:

  • What have I been good at throughout my career that came naturally to me?
  • What are my most notable projects? What projects do my boss or colleagues most compliment me on? Ask previous co-workers about this.
  • What abilities do I have that have a direct impact on the company's bottom line?
  • What unique or hard to find talents do I have that may be needed for this job?
List down your answers then tie it to all the information you've gathered about the role, and the company's challenges.

Step 3. Account for Any Gaps (Third Paragraph)

Let's say you have a lot of experience in the industry, about ten years or more. In that case, you can use the third paragraph to list some of the achievements or skills not fully explained in your resume. If you're open to relocation, are from another state, or in career transition, this is where you should briefly explain it as well.

Or maybe, for whatever reason, you were unemployed for six months or more. Use this paragraph to explain the situation, and how you kept yourself up to date - through training, volunteer work, or attending industry events.

Step 4. Close With a Clear Call to Action(CTA)

Below is a good example:

"Thank you for taking the time to review my application. I'll follow-up with you on (Day), at (Time) to discuss this opportunity and gain additional insight about what's next for (Company Name). You can also call me at, (Phone Number) if that's more convenient."

In the above example, your one CTA is for them to call you. You're also assuming the recipient will review your resume and portfolio, and even if they don't, they'll have to once you call them.

It's proactive, but not too aggressive because it's not requesting an interview - just a discussion of the job and the company's plans. Most recruiters see this as an advance-notice follow-up.

Charley Mendoza writes unique and well-researched content for amazing professionals in the fields of business, career development and personal development. After 7 years in the corporate world working in the fields of education, life insurance, banking and customer service, she's now carving her own path as a professional writer. Charley spends most of her waking hours researching, reading, and writing about business, career and personal development. To learn more about Charley, visit her website.

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