The Secret Sauce of Great Cover Letters

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Compiled and edited by Julie Tereshchuk

Dear Mentors,

What’s the secret to writing great cover letters? Is there a way to begin a cover letter that doesn’t sound trite?

Yours, Nervous Writer

 

Dear Nervous Writer,

Make your letter stand out by doing your research ahead of time.

Highlight your skills and experience in relation to the job you seek, demonstrate that you understand the organization you hope to work for, and address the letter to the person who will be reviewing the applications. Close by letting them know you’ll follow up, then do it.

If you are truly excited about the prospect of getting the job, show it through your writing. You won’t sound trite if you are sincere and demonstrate how much thought you’ve put into the letter.

Yours,

Liz Carmack

 

Dear Nervous Writer,

Most people overthink their cover letters… some are even too afraid to include one (which is the biggest mistake of all).

It may seem trite to start with what position you’re applying for and where you found the job listing but it really does help the employer understand that you’re applying for the position they’re hiring for (sometimes applications get handed to the wrong person) and how you found it (so they know from what resource their applicants are finding them).

After that, sincerity and correctness are the two most important parts of a cover letter, IMHO.

Don’t feel pressured into being overly clever. And certainly don’t assume your cover letter needs to be long.

Simply and honestly state why you’re interested in the position, usually in a conversational-yet-professional tone and be sure to address any obvious questions someone might have when looking over your resume. For instance, “I spotted your job listing for communications manager in a Women Communicators of Austin (WCA) email and was drawn to it. I’ve been living and working on an alpaca farm in New Zealand for the past three years but long to return to the Austin communications industry that I love…”

Point out the background, qualifications and aspirations you have that make you a great candidate. This is your chance to put prose to these skills and highlight them in a way that the employer will feel crazy not to call you in to learn more.

Statements like “I feel I’d be a great candidate because…” seem corny or even boastful but they really do help the employer understand how you might fit the bill.

And, as far as correctness, a cover letter will only help you if it doesn’t include typos, grammatical mistakes or missteps (like getting the name of the hiring manager wrong). Find a friend or colleague willing to proof read your cover letters (against the job listing itself) because copy mistakes for a job in communications just don’t fly.

Yours,

LuAnn Glowacz

 

Dear Nervous Writer,

A great cover letter highlights accomplishments, not responsibilities, without restating what’s on the résumé. Avoid the small talk in the opening, and dive right into your unique experiences and/or skill set.

For example:

To Whom it May Concern (better if you have a name):

During the past xx years, I have had the unique experience of…  OR

During the past xx years, I have had the opportunity to cultivate a unique skill set in…It’s been an asset to me because (list accomplishments)…I believe it will continue to serve me well in the role of xx at xx company.

Including a quote that feels relevant to your philosophy, work ethic, or personality can be an interesting touch, but be sure to expand for a sentence or two about why the quote is relevant.

An even better cover letter is not a “letter” at all, but a video, perhaps burned onto a thumb drive and mailed Fedex or priority mail, and highlighting a unique skill. For example, if you’re musical, maybe include a few seconds of you playing an instrument or write a quick song about the company, or sing their jingle. If you speak another language, deliver your message in all the languages you speak. If you have a website, hold up a sign in the video with the URL of your blog or your photography site, or an example of your work. Or a picture of something you built, or include in the package something you made. Just keep the company in mind and if it’s very traditional, you might want to keep your ideas more traditional, but video can still work well.

Consider the job you’re applying for and perhaps provide some ideas or a work sample. Include a marketing idea (maybe with a mock-up) or write a sample blog post for them.

Yours,

Maura Thomas

 

Dear Nervous Writer,

I’ve read hundreds of cover letters for editing, writing and internship positions over my career and I can’t say that there is a magic formula for landing an interview.

But avoid these tips at your own peril:

  1. Get my name right.
  2. Get the company name right.
  3. Show that you understand the position and at least some of the job requirements. For example, if you are applying for an editing job, now is not a good time to tell me that you also hope to write movie reviews and travel stories. Nope.
  4. Check and double check your spelling and grammar.

Bonus advice:

Set up your voicemail with a professional greeting, check it for my message and return my phone call! (Yes, I have passed on candidates who did not call back within a reasonable time period.)

Sorry if this sounds harsh, but now is the time to sweat the details. Good luck!

Yours,

Sandra Kleinsasser

 

About Jennifer Van Gilder

A marketing research and health communications professional passionate about doing work that changes lives for the better. Adept team leader able to develop and execute integrated, multichannel public awareness campaigns and community-based solutions.

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