The Truth About Cover Letters

I’m going to let you in on a powerful secret. You may initially scoff in disbelief, but if you choose to take these principles to heart, you will discover the truth for yourself, and you can thank me later.

The secret to getting the job you want is comprised of two words: Cover. Letters.

It’s a little-known fact that a cover letter is often the difference between getting the job, and not getting the job. When your cover letter is done right, there is almost no chance of you NOT getting the job. Yes – it’s that important!

Crack the Code

Understand that “cover letter” is code for “extraordinary opportunities”.  If you have been operating, like so many struggling job-seekers, under the misconception that a cover letter is unnecessary, or just another bell or whistle, here are all the opportunities you’ve been missing:

  • Opportunity to express your unique voice.
  • Opportunity to clearly communicate you want the job.
  • Opportunity to clearly communicate you can do the job.
  • Opportunity to be more than just a number – the opportunity to be a human.
  • Opportunity to present relevant facts about yourself that don’t belong in a resume.
  • Opportunity to demonstrate you possess top skills and traits employers are looking for, such as: attention to detail through careful editing; strong communication skills through clear, engaging writing; and excellent work ethic through customization.

The Golden Rules

Rule #1 when it comes to cover letters:  Have one.

Rule #2:  Customize – create a unique, custom cover letter for every job you apply to.

Equipped with these two gold nuggets alone, your job search is about to become exponentially more fruitful. However, if you would like a few more juicy tidbits of guidance on how to write a killer cover letter that is sure to blow everyone away, read on.

How to Customize

Considering the magnitude of impact custom cover letters have on employers, they take a surprisingly small amount of effort to create. Follow these three easy steps to customize your cover letter for any position:

1.  Let the job description be your guide.

The job description tells you exactly what your potential employer is looking for.  Choose several qualities referenced in the job description and use your own words to clearly state how you possess or embody each quality.

For example, if the job description says: Demonstrates passion for excellence with respect to treating and caring for customers.  

You might write: My passion for making customers feel respected and supported is the driving force behind my proven track record of satisfied customers, illustrated by a steady stream of grateful testimonials and dozens of long-term relationships.

Pretty neat, huh?  That was so fun, let’s try another…

If the job description says:  Strong decision making and analytical abilities desired.

You might write:  My strong analytical nature helps me make quick, effective decisions.

Now grab a pen.  Try this one yourself…

Job description says:  Possess a strong work ethic and be a team player.

What would you write???  (Take a minute or two to write something about yourself related to this requirement.)

Now you’re getting the hang of it!

2.  Align with the company mission and values.

Good hiring managers know that employees who are emotionally invested in a company are more likely to take personal responsibility, stay motivated, and stick around! Visit the company’s website.  Find out exactly what they do and who they are.  What is their mission? What are their values?  Identify some aspects you resonate with, feel how they inspire or excite you – then acknowledge the company for these aspects and express your sense of inspiration and excitement.  In addition, companies are increasingly concerned with “cultural fit”, and strive to hire people who will embrace and adopt their core values and collective behavior. Referencing the company’s mission, values, and culture is a very effective way to communicate your “cultural fitness”!

3.  Ambiguity is for amateurs.

“Dear sir or ma’am, let me tell you the truth about cover letters…” How does that make you feel? How about this one:  “To whom it may concern, here’s how to write a great cover letter…”  Do you want to lean in close and give me your full attention? Or back away slowly… These ambiguous salutations keep your cover letter reader at a distance and instantly trigger a sense of disengagement.  If you really want someone’s undivided attention, call them by their name!  Go to the company’s website and find out who the manager of the department you’re applying to is, or the person in charge of recruitment, or even the CEO. Whether or not the person you choose to address your cover letter to is the first person to read it, you win – because they will be impressed you took the time and effort to add this personal touch.

Hungry for more?  If you’ve made it this far, you’ve earned a few bonus tips:

A Tip from Mr. Obvious

Do you want the job? Can you do the job? Decide you want the job, know you can do the job, and then say so! Seriously.  Literally state “I want this job.” “I am fully capable of doing this job.”  It matters.

Don’t be Shy – Shine!

Say why you are the best person for the job. Your confidence is key.  Consciously cultivate a sense of confidence in yourself as you prepare to write your cover letter, then let it radiate through your words.  I know you may not feel comfortable writing positive things about yourself, but you should.  You don’t do anyone any favors, least of all yourself, by playing small. If you are good at something, own it. Repeat after me: “I am awesome”.  The world needs awesome people. The world needs you. Be realistic about what you rock at and let your confidence shine through your cover letter.

Your Humanness is Showing

News flash – hiring managers want to hire humans. Be genuine.  Write in your own unique voice.  Present yourself as a human being.

Cover Letter Karma

The law of reciprocation.  The more open and up front you are in your cover letter, the more open and up front your potential employer will be with you. Cultivate an open, flowing channel of mutual respect right from the get-go.

Show and Tell

Actions may speak louder than words, but cover letters provide you a unique opportunity to demonstrate important actions and qualities through words. A clean, well-written cover letter, free of misspellings and grammar errors shows you possess keen attention to detail and excellent communication skills. Are you a true professional? Show it by using a respectful, classy tone and sticking to job-relevant content.  In other words, don’t talk about your hobbies and your dog (unless it directly relates to the position: i.e. you’re applying for a rock climbing instructor position and you have ten years of rock climbing experience).

Finally, customizing a cover letter demonstrates one of the most important traits employers look for: strong work ethic. This simple practice shows you are willing to go above and beyond – to do what it takes to get the job done right.  It shows you don’t settle for average, and therefore, you are not average – you are exceptional, and worthy of serious consideration.