How to Write Your Cover LetterNov 13, 2022
If you'd like to listen to a podcast episode on this topic, listen to Episode #23 - Cover Letters. Should You Write One or Not?
I think Pamela Skillings says it best in her article, Cover Letter Examples That Will Get You Noticed, that she refers “to your cover letter and resume as your handshake and your sales pitch all rolled into one.”
While your resume tells your professional accomplishments, your cover letter tells your story. It’s a more personal statement about why you are the best candidate for the position. Your cover letter is your “sales pitch” because you are talking about your “fit” for the job.
I agree that a cover letter should be one-page. However, given that it takes the hiring manager or recruiter about six or seven seconds to make a first impression regarding your resume if they get to your cover letter, you better make your pitch quickly, clearly, and accurately.
I’ve goofed on this. There was a time early in my career when I sent the wrong cover letter to the “right” job. It was late. I was tired. I was hurried. And I goofed. I was devastated. Granted, it was a simple mistake. I just grabbed the wrong cover letter, attached a resume, stuck it in the envelope, and sent it off via snail mail. (Yes, this was a few years ago.) But when I got home from the post office, I noticed that the cover letter I meant to send, was still on the table. I knew there was no way I was going to get a call to come for an interview after I sent a cover letter addressed to the wrong company and the wrong person. It was a mistake too big to overlook. And yes, I didn’t get called for an interview.
I’ve learned from my mistake and am sharing my information and wealth of experience with you to help you communicate your story in your cover letter. I recommend keeping your cover letter simple, but impactful. I suggest writing three very clear, and direct, paragraphs in this format.
Paragraph #1 – Introduce Yourself
This is your chance to say why you are applying for the job and what interests you about the position. You’ve got a headline. Use it! Get to the point and tell the hiring manager what you do and why you do it.
Whenever someone asks me what I do, I tell them that I help professionals, who are ambitious about their careers, create their next advancement opportunity. It’s specific and direct. What’s your headline? This needs to be in your first paragraph along with information about how you heard about the position and your interest to apply for it. This is your chance to “Be Bold” and go after it. You’ve got just a few sentences. Don’t leave anything in the bag. Put your reasons out there!
Paragraph #2 – Your Specific and Relevant Achievements
Here is where you get to state why your experience is perfect for this position. What have you accomplished that makes you an excellent fit for this job? Describe how your work aligns with the company’s work and how does your skill set address the employer’s challenge addressed in the job posting.
Paragraph #3 – Call to Action
Sometimes people need a little ‘push,” and your call to action is designed to help them decide. What do you want to ask for in your call to action? Are you going to ask for an in-person interview? After all, a well-written cover letter and resume are designed to get you to the next step in the interview process. Whatever your call to action is, make sure that it is specific enough for the hiring manager to know what you are asking.
Just a Few Reminders on Best Practices
- Make sure your cover letter is well-written. Consider hiring a professional writer to help you. Proofread it and ensure your cover letter is free from all grammatical and spelling errors. Also, Grammarly is an online service that will conduct a more thorough check than Word.
- Keep your cover letter to one-page, and it doesn’t have to be a full page. Sometimes brevity is better as long as you clearly communicate your message.
- Customize your cover letter for each company and position. You are making a powerful connection with your future employer. Take the time to be attentive to details. This includes citing things about the company’s work, mission, vision and/or organization.
- Provide specific information when requested. I have known people to intentionally omit information, such as salary requirements, from their cover letter or application because they thought they would answer it during the interview when they get there. The problem is, when you omit information that is asked for, you won’t get invited to the interview. Pay attention to the details and answer all questions.
- Avoid humor and flattery. These can be difficult to decipher in your cover letter. Just avoid them and stick to the facts as well as your achievements.
- Connect! Remember that your words are making a connection to help you get invited to an interview. Always remember that you are making a first impression and you don’t get a second chance. Let your words communicate your value and fit for the position.
Lastly, remember that your cover letter tells YOUR story. Only you can say it because these are your experiences, accomplishments, and achievements. This is your chance to get personal about why you are the right fit for the job. You have one page to do it, and each sentence needs to be carefully crafted to communicate your skills and abilities. Tell your story! It’s worth telling.
If you would like to review some additional resources I found helpful when writing this blog, check out these two articles.
How to Write a Cover Letter by Amy Gallo
6 Secrets to Writing a Great Cover Letter by Seth Porges