So, you’ve found a job you want to apply to. Fantastic! You’ve done your research, you’ve updated your resume, you’ve got your references lined up… but… what’s this? You haven’t written a cover letter?
STOP EVERYTHING! Open up a word document RIGHT NOW. You can’t forget this crucial step!
The truth is, the importance of the cover letter is seriously understated, especially in 2020. Some even argue that they’re becoming obsolete, and with so many applications processes taking place online, no one has to send a physical letter anymore. But what if I told you, a cover letter could end up being the deciding factor that determines whether or not you land that job that you’ve desperately wanted? To show you what I mean, let me introduce you to Brennan and Dale.
Brennan and Dale are two recent college grads. They were friends back in school, but were always pretty competitive. Whatever Dale had, Brennan wanted, and vice versa, especially because they were studying the same major, were in the same classes, and had the same career goals for after graduation; they both fantasized about landing a position at Emerge Marketing, a marketing agency in the big city. Brennan majored in marketing in college. He graduated with a 3.45 GPA, was in two reputable business clubs, and had two marketing internships. Dale also majored in marketing in college, graduated with a 3.41 GPA, was in the same two clubs as Brennan, and also had two marketing internships.
Recently, both Brennan and Dale submitted their applications and resumes to the job they both always dreamed about. Shortly after the application date passed, Brennan got a text from Dale:
Brennan nearly forgot that Dale was eyeing up the same position he was! If it wasn’t for his higher GPA, he’d be a little more worried that Dale could get an interview over him. But, Brennan was pretty confident in himself. His resume was near-flawless, and he made sure to optimize the keywords in it to make sure it would make it past the application tracking system. He had it in the bag! Right…?
A few days passed. Soon, Brennan got another text:
Brennan began to panic. He didn’t answer Dale right away. He hadn’t heard anything yet and he didn’t want Dale to think he had won so soon. However, later that day, Brennan got the email that no one in the job search wants to get:
“Dear Brennan, thank you so much for applying to our open starting position at Emerge Marketing. While we were impressed with your resume, our hiring team has decided to proceed with other candidates for the next round of the selection process.”
Brennan was dumbfounded. How could this have happened? Him and Dale were practically the same candidate on paper, and he even had a higher college GPA than him. What could have possibly caused him to get denied? He texted Dale back:
A cover letter? Dale wrote a cover letter? Brennan didn’t even think that was necessary anymore!
The sad truth is, Brennan could have seriously optimized his chances of getting the call that Dale got if he had only written a cover letter.
Cover Letters: The Revival
Cover letters shouldn’t be overlooked. In fact, it’s time for their revival.
When a hiring team receives a batch of applications with candidates that are on similar playing fields, cover letters can show them things that resumes simply can’t. And, when you’re applying for a position, you can make your cover letter reflect whatever you feel your resume is lacking.
You see, you have to stop viewing cover letters as a formality, and start viewing them as your ‘secret weapon.’ Cover letters are your chance to sell yourself! If you want to talk about how passionate you are about the possibility of working for a company, portray that in your cover letter. If you lack work experience, but have a great deal of relevant experience from college courses or projects, explain what you’ve learned from those. Just about anything you can think of that might benefit you in some way when you’re applying for a job, you can depict in your cover letter.
Not only does the cover letter allow you to sell yourself, but it also shows your potential future employer that you mean business. It shows a hiring team that you took initiative and took the opportunity to apply for their position seriously. It shows that you tried whatever you could to show them what you’ve got, and employers appreciate that. They want to hire a go-getter. So, use the modern day view of cover letters to your benefit; when common perception is that the cover letter is slipping into obscurity and less people are writing them, write one to stand out! Otherwise, you’re practically selling yourself short, and it may even put you in a position like our friend Brennan.
But Where Do I Start?
So you’ve got a blank word document in front of you now (did you forget when I told you to open one before? Well come on!).
Writing a cover letter may seem daunting when you’re staring at a blank document, but it doesn’t have to be. You can read these steps to get you on the right path, or watch this video!
1. Analyze the job posting
Job postings outline exactly what the hiring team is looking for. So, make sure you make it known that that’s exactly what you are, wherever it applies! Often times, companies will put submitted job applications through an application tracking system that looks specifically for the key words and phrases they listed in the job posting. If you can work these into your cover letter (and your resume!), and elaborate on them, then you’re already setting yourself up for success. For more help on how to do this, this link is a great resource.
2. Find information on how to address your cover letter
Cover letters start with an opening, like any other letter would. In this, you want to address who you’re writing to and where the letter is going. If you don’t know this information already, LinkedIn is a great resource to figure this out. Simply type in the company name and the title of the job of the person you believe you should address your letter to, and you’re sure to find someone. You want to aim for the head of/someone on the hiring team, but if you can’t find that, you can also search for the head of the department, the head of human resources, or even the name of your interviewer. By seeing their LinkedIn, you’ll find information on where they’re located, what their titles may be, and so on. And, if a full address isn’t directly on LinkedIn, Google is your best friend. Just search for a company office in the city in which the person you’re writing to is located, and Google is sure to lead you on the right path.
3. Begin the layout of your letter
Cover letters should also include your name and contact information, and this should be the first someone sees when looking at your letter. So, you need to find a layout for the whole thing. To find a layout that’s right for you, you can browse this link for ideas.
When making your header, include your name, address, phone number, email address, and if you want to, your LinkedIn account as well. Make sure you also date your letter, and include the name of the position you’re applying for. Also, make sure that your personal information is well formatted and eye catching, but avoid crazy colors, images, and hard to read fonts.
This is where you say, “Dear _________,” it’s as simple as that!
5. Opening paragraph
A great place to start your first paragraph is with your intention. Briefly tell who you’re writing to why you’re writing to them in the first place, and what your goal is by doing this! Then think about your personal goals and reflect on those. What are you looking for in a job? What do you think you could gain and grow from with this one? You can then explain why you think the position you’re applying for would satisfy your goals, along with why you think you would satisfy the employer’s goals. Remember, they should have something to gain by hiring you too!
6. Secondary paragraph
I like to call the secondary paragraph the ‘humble brag’; here, you can back up your claims about the qualities you possess by, basically, proving yourself! Explain some of the top experience you’ve had, major projects you’ve completed, special teams you have worked on, or insightful classes you’ve taken. For each of your examples, describe what you took away from those experiences; how did you grow? Hiring teams like to see that you can be self-reflective.
Here, you can also include any metrics or data to back you up. If you had an internship where you helped a team meet or exceed a goal, ‘brag’ about it! If you’ve won an award for your hard work, ‘brag’ about it! Get creative, this is about you presenting yourself in the best light that you can. This is also where the reflection from step one comes into play; refer to any skills you possess, especially the ones that you have in common with the job posting. This directly shows a correlation that you are what they’re looking for!
7. Tertiary paragraph
Now, refer back to what you’ve just written. This is where you really emphasize what you can bring to the company. Explain how the things in your secondary paragraph make you a great candidate for the position you’re applying for. Again, refer to your job posting analysis and elaborate on you being what they need.
8. Closing paragraph
This paragraph is a brief culmination of all of your points. Summarize everything you’ve said, short and sweet. Politely ask for the reader to review your attached resume for more detail about you, and say something to let them know that you’re grateful for the opportunity and look forward to hearing from them. Finally, sign off!
Ready To Send!
Congratulations, you’ve successfully written your cover letter! If in any way you feel that you need more information or need to tweak something, we have the solution for you!
Visit our Instagram page on November 24th, 2020 to participate in our live Q&A, where we'll be covering any questions you may have about cover letters, your resume, and much more! All you have to do is submit a question to our Instagram story and we'll respond.
Remember, cover letters aren’t a thing of the past; they’re anything but that! Knowing what you know now after reading this article, you should see that cover letters are your secret weapon when it comes to your job or internship application.
Don’t stop now, though! Writing a great cover letter is just one of the things you can do to show your stuff in the job application and interview process. The rest of our site has some awesome resources and information on what you should do next, like how to optimize your resume, or tips on how to have a smooth first interview.
Remember, you’ve got this! Now go out there be confident, and good luck!