Career Thought Leaders & Resume Writing Academy
and Thomas Powner
People assume that a cover letter is out of style, but it is not true. A cover letter is really about connecting with the hiring manager and starting the conversation to see if the opportunity is a mutual fit – and genuine connection never goes out of style!Many hiring managers and recruiters read cover letters after reading resumes to get a deeper understanding of the applicants who are qualified for the position. Cover letters should help you land an interview, rather than disqualify you. Here are some tips to keep in mind when writing a cover letter.
You can have a great resume and you possess the skill set, experience, and education for the position. However, if your cover letter does not add information and just repeats what is in your resume, you are losing an opportunity to continue to market yourself.
Avoid copying your resume information
Writing a letter to the hiring managers helps prove how well you communicate. They will pick up on it if you just copied word for word from the job posting. They can perceive this as lazy, even though it is more likely you just didn’t know what to say. What can you do instead? You can create stories from the highlights of your resume. It can be a full story that you could not tell in a resume. Or, you can address the top five competencies and traits they are looking for in that position, and show how you are a good fit.
Review the job description and talk to your network to identify specific areas of concern. Go deeper into the stories that show you have solved similar problems in the past. If they are looking for something specific and you do not have that experience, do not hide the fact you may not be that person. You could say, for example:“I know you are looking for someone with five years of experience, but I am sure that my one year of deep experience in X, Y and Z will make up for it.”
Making connection with the company
The employers should feel that you are making a connection with them. How do you connect with the company, its mission and vision, and the products and services it offers? They want to hire a person who really connects to the company’s culture and how it operates. Why do you want to work there?Making that connection helps the recruiter understand that you could be the right person. What do you know about them? Have you seen someone from the company who did a presentation? Have you read something about the company in a news article? Read the company’s website and look into its history and future plans.
A client who was recruited for sales wrote in the cover letter: “I noticed in the past three years, your company has been going a little backwards in sales and profits. I would love to be part of that solution to get the company back on track.” This showed the hiring manager that the applicant took the time to really understand the company where it is now.Looking for some resources around cover letters and notes? Check out this 2-hour webinars on cover letters and e-notes
Showing your voice and personality
Cover letters that lack personality and creativity look exactly like every other single cover letter. They are boring. They do not persuade the recruiters. The candidate is the right person for the job, but the letter is just lacking that human voice.
Make your letter conversational. You can talk about yourself and what you bring to the table that makes you relevant. How do you lead teams to be successful? How do you boost sales and drive sales increases? It is an opportunity to share a little bit of your personality by sharing stories or examples.Talk about relevant things, such as how you can fix problems in the job. If you are an entry-level candidate, you might share where you see yourself in three years. Having your favorite quote at the bottom of the resume or cover letter could add some insight to things you believe in and how you approach your career. That could really make you stand out from the pack. It can actually be fun to do when you start getting used to writing your cover letter and do not forget your voice.
There are occasions when companies just want you to send a resume. No cover letter is needed. Then do not send one. If you send one, that is not following the instructions. When they require a cover letter, then send one because it is an opportunity. Include all those other pieces of information that are important for answering their questions. If the announcement doesn’t say if a letter is required or not, send one – and make sure it is customized to connect specifically to that employer.
Many job announcements will ask to share your compensation requirements or your compensation history. In that case, just be straightforward about it. List your expected salary or calculate your total compensation which includes benefits and healthcare.
You can Google total compensation and do the calculations for yourself, and figure out if that number would make more sense for you to share. Look at four or five websites that give you salary information, and take an average salary rate. It is pretty close to being accurate, but take an average because some of these sites have different algorithms in the back end when it talks about education and years of experience, among others.
Take this example Tom recently wrote for a client, “My current base is $88,000 plus year-end performance bonus. I understand from your job posting that my total compensation will be above your scale, but I believe as the interview progresses, we can pinpoint a salary that fits both of our needs.” He got interviewed and hired at $80,000 plus a bonus package. If the directions don’t ask for it, leave the salary out. We want to do as much as we can to follow those directions as possible without causing ourselves real challenges.
It is important that people realize that a cover letter is not something that you can write once and send to every job. If you are doing that, you might as well not send one because you might actually be making yourself look worse than not sending one at all.
Writing for a specific company and its “pain”
The challenge is it really has to be specific. Nobody wants to read a template cover letter. You want to make a connection and speak directly to why you are a good fit for that company. Then the readers (recruiters or employers) know that it was something that is put together just for them.Every cover letter should be a “pain letter.” You should be thinking about what is the employer’s pain by doing the research to identify it as much as possible. The main point should be about how you can bring the goods to address that pain. It helps you stand out and connect with them.
One of our challenges when we have been writing for a while is that we tend to get overly formal. Maybe we use the same introductions over and over again. We challenge you as a job seeker or a resume writer, to think about how you can put aside some of those formulaic and formatted responses. How does this client connect to this company? Do a little bit of research by reading articles, press releases, and watching videos on the company’s websites. Most of them have videos about why someone loves to work there. Find something that your client (job seeker) can connect to the company. Do they know what is going on with the company’s product, sales, or growth?
Demonstrating your qualifications
When you learned to write an essay, there were always five points that led off with your thesis. These are the main pieces that show you are qualified for the role. Those are directly off of the job description. Any research you can do to make your point as how you demonstrate the qualifications that they are asking for. You do not need to necessarily regurgitate your qualifications, but you do want to directly speak to those qualifications that they are asking for. We know that was an “old school” popular thing to say “here are my skills and expertise.” You want to highlight the things that might be differentiating your experiences, qualifications, accomplishments, and the stories that prove you have the required skill sets.
You are not going to address all 15 bullets in the job description, but you can bundle those into three or four main areas. Then, communicate your best-selling points towards those three or four areas, reframing things from the resume, summarizing, combining stories, or elongating a story that you talked to briefly in the resume.
Closing your letter
When you are closing your letter, you will be asking about the interview like “looking forward to speaking with you.” But, that language is going to be different depending on your role. A counselor might say, “I look forward to speaking with you about this.” A salesperson might say, “I'm going to call you on Tuesday and talk.” Or, “I look forward to talking about this job Tuesday at 10:00 AM.” Different approaches in different types of careers and different industries. You got that close where you are asking for or expecting a connection. But, not everything works for everybody and that approach might not work for you.
In a job search, you are selling your talent, knowledge, experience, education, and what you do for companies. That is your brand value and make sure that it shines on your resume, LinkedIn profile, cover letter, career marketing campaign tools, and any marketing programs.
Listen to the Full Podcast Episode