Ah, the classic cover letter problem. For most candidates, it’s the most dreaded part of the hiring process. You plow through endless cover letter examples online, draft and redraft the perfect letter, all the while thinking, “surely my resume speaks for itself, what’s the point?”
Cover letters may be a sore spot for many job seekers, but they’re one of the most useful tools for a hiring manager. A resume can only say so much, while a cover letter gives insight into who you are, how you communicate, and gives you an additional opportunity to showcase skills that may not fit into a resume format. Drafting a cover letter can certainly be time-consuming and challenging, but with a few clarifying tips and a standard draft in your back pocket, you can take some of the sting out of the cover letter writing process.
You only have three-quarters of a page (ideally) to cover a lot of ground, so don’t waste it! Your cover letter is not a chance to reiterate your resume in essay form, nor should your letter excessively gloat about how amazing you are as an employee. You certainly want there to be consistency between your resume and cover letter, but find ways to take your experience and expand outside of the bullet points. How did your service industry experience teach you about time management? What did your internship show you about thriving in a large organization? Using hard skills or experience as a leader to introduce your soft skills can make it much easier to “toot your own horn” without veering too far into bragging territory.
Expanding on your experience and highlighting your hidden skills is certainly important, but finding ways to stand out and personalize your cover letter should be your top priority. One of the most important ways you can distinguish yourself in a cover letter is to put your actual voice into it. A sterile, formalized cover letter can certainly project a level of professionalism, but for most industries, an element of warmth, personality, and character can help distinguish if you’re the right “fit” for their company. Ditch the stuffy “Dear hiring manager” and start with an anecdote, a personal discovery, or even a light joke if you feel it’s appropriate.
Another way to distinguish yourself is to make it clear how interested you are in the position. That’s not to say that you should stress that you want to work at this company because they’re just “really really really great,” and toss in a couple of easily Googleable facts, but you should prove that you did your research. Do they have an incredible diversity program with real results? Do they stress public service through paid volunteer hours? What changes have they made recently that inspired you? Use LinkedIn, the company’s blog, or, yes, even Google to find something specific and personally interesting to you.
Finally, while personalizing each letter is a necessary step, taking too much time to perfectly craft a unique letter from scratch can grind your job search to a standstill. Remember that you do not have to recreate the wheel here. Instead, utilize a basic template that’s easily adaptable to each position. Spend a weekend crafting a few succinct sentences around your transferable skills, an anecdote or two, and a tight intro that can give you a general starting place.
With some research, finesse, and editing skills in your tool belt, you can easily take your cover letter from a hurdle to an asset in your job search.