“When I was 12, I had an experience that shaped my life forever. My parents took me on a cross-country trip, and despite acting like I was bored out of my mind (like most kids that age), we saw some of the most amazing historical and natural sites in the country. It was there, at the foot of Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park, that I realized that I loved seeing things like this. And my travel itch forever changed my whole career trajectory. I remember the feeling of awe, excitement and interest in all things natural and the people who were there that shared that same experience. And I knew I wanted to be part of making this happen.”
Do I have your attention yet?
Yes? I thought so.
Any good cover letter isn’t about regurgitating your résumé back to the reader.
This is an opportunity to draw someone in. Make them live your experience.
Help prospective employers gain an understanding of what attracts you to their job opening.
In a nutshell: A cover letter emotionally connects the reader to your experience in a way that shows why you are the perfect candidate for the job.
The good news for you is that most people are not writing this way. Most simply have a long and boring list of sentences that are predictable and rote.
The bad news is that you are probably doing the same thing.
But you can change this—that’s the even better news.
Writing compelling cover letters boils down to this: What are the target employer’s pain points, and how can you solve them?
The more you can draw parallels of how your experience connects to the job requirements, the better chance you have of making a stronger business case of being the top/preferred candidate.
But it goes deeper than this.
A good cover letter sells, not tells.
So use the opportunity to provide insights and emotional connections versus just reciting a litany of facts.
Another thing to consider in writing cover letters: Watch out for personal pronouns: They’ll get you!
At a recent résumé writing conference that I attended, one of the top writers in the U.S. led a session on writing cover letters.
Everyone in attendance was astounded when she presented her letter which only used personal pronouns (I, me, my) three times!
Try to keep the use of personal pronouns as minimal as possible. Otherwise, you come across as that annoying (braying?) person at a networking event that leads every sentence with, “Well, I_____. And then I ______. And my _______.”
You get the drift.
Remember to connect to the audience, and focus on solving their needs.
Now, I do get occasional pushback from people saying, “Well, do employers even bother to read cover letters anymore?”
Good question. The answer: Yes and no.
Cover letters have not yet gone extinct and until then, it is still considered a business formality. It’s still better to provide one on the off-chance you hit the one person who expects a cover letter and will immediately toss out your application if one isn’t included.
Plus, with the heavy use of applicant tracking systems (ATS), cover letters can help count towards your keyword “hits.”
And finally, an employer that skipped over your cover letter initially may circle back to read it in order to gain insights about you and check your writing abilities.
The end game is that you always need to include a cover letter and make sure to use this opportunity to connect to your audience. Remember: People hire people that they like, and if you use the cover letter as a conduit as a way to introduce yourself and be likable, then you’re far ahead of the game than other candidates.