A cover letter that you carefully craft in consideration of a job posting and the employer’s needs could be the one thing that makes you stand out from competitive candidates. And rest assured, they are competitive; the average opening today gets an average of 250 job applicants. Again, that’s for a single opening. Therefore, it’s especially important that you submit a well-written cover letter, and that starts with how you address it.
Here are a few lesser-known tips for addressing a cover letter proven to grab a prospective employer’s attention.
Do not use impersonal phrases, like “To Whom it May Concern, “Dear Hire Manager,” or “Dear Sir or Madam,” in the salutation if you can at all help it. In response to this, I often get the next question: “What if I don’t know who that person is and this information isn’t listed in the job description?” We’ll answer that in the next tip.
In the case that you don’t know the recipient by name, search LinkedIn or the company’s website and identify a person in Human Resources or someone working within the department to which you are applying. Reach out, introduce yourself, and kindly ask for the name of the hiring manager of the position that you are applying for. Make it known that you would like to properly address your cover letter’s salutation to that person.
If you already know someone working at the company, reach out to that person and ask them for the name of the hiring manager.
Most people don’t do these simple steps because it takes just a bit more effort to find the name, email or phone number of someone internally within the organization. And it requires even more effort and confidence to reach out. Well, it's exactly that extra effort and personal touch that will likely take you from faceless job seeker to a true candidate with your foot in the door. By contacting someone at the company, you have an opportunity to make a positive impression.
Ideally, you build rapport and gain insight into the company that will inspire you to craft a customized cover letter that addresses the needs of the role.
Strike up a light and positive conversation about the company and the position. Gain a few insights on the culture of the company or insider info to needs of the team that you wouldn’t have known otherwise. This may seem a little intimidating, but just imagine the best scenario — the person on the other end could advocate for you for the role.
Is the job description upbeat and conversational? Or is it formal and to the point?
This is an aspect that is often underused by applicants. With a well-written intro, your cover letter could show that you are a good fit culturally. Captivate the reader with a statement that demonstrates that you are aligned with the company’s brand and core values and that you understand and can fulfill the responsibilities of the role.
Writing a good cover letter is the key to attracting potential employers. However, many people seem to stumble over a few simple steps to come up with an effective and well-written cover letter. Make use of these tips for addressing your cover letter and you will gain a competitive edge.
Do you have your cover letter in front of you?
Because while we’re at it, let’s look at five key ways you can improve your cover letter in its entirety in under 10 minutes:
If you don’t know enough about the job or the potential employer to write a personalized cover letter, then you need to do that first. For example, if you’re looking for an engineering or marketing role, is there something about the company that excites you and makes you want to work there rather than the hundreds of other companies out there?
Another trick to remember is to ask yourself whether you’ve used the word “you.” For example, “I’m sure you’re looking for a great team player for your marketing role because your culture seems very collaborative. That’s why I’m interested in your XXX position.” Everyone likes to feel like they are wanted, and this is true for employers, as well.
When you skim your cover letter in five seconds, can you understand the gist of the message you’re trying to convey? Being brief for its own sake is not the point. Most hire managers and recruiters have to sift through thousands of applicants, and your cover letter and resume may be about the hundredth they’ve seen that day; at this point, it all starts to blend together. If your resume only gets a 6-second glance, you can imagine that your cover letter will receive a similar amount of attention. Too often, I’ve seen three- or four- paragraph cover letters that would take someone five minutes to realistically read, when each paragraph should be concise and impactful instead.
Try this experiment. After you’ve cut down your cover letter, take a break from it and put it on your desk. When you return for another proofread, glance at it and see what jumps out at you. If it’s so dense that nothing stands out, then it’s either too long, not very interesting, or both. Your goal is to make sure something important stands out in five to six seconds.
Another way of testing this is to skim your cover letter on your computer or phone. What can you see in two scrolls down the screen? What content is “above the fold”? That will give you a sense of the optics of your cover letter where it will most likely be reviewed.
It’s very easy to use the same cover letter over and over. The only thing that’s easier is to spot a generic cover letter. There’s nothing wrong with cutting and pasting certain parts (or even the majority) of a cover letter, but try to add a sentence or two of personalization at the beginning can make something feel much more authentic (even if the person reading is skimming).
One of the great challenges (and opportunities) of a cover letter is that you get to say why you are interested in a job. A resume doesn’t give you a chance to do that because it’s supposed to be a biographical bullet-point summary of your work and education experience. A cover letter, on the other hand, is an open slate in terms of allowing you to communicate your enthusiasm. Don’t waste that opportunity by rehashing your resume content. You should be writing something original instead that shows some personality.
If you believe in the company’s mission, say so! If you think the role is your dream job, don’t be shy about sharing that. Genuine enthusiasm is rarer than you may think, and everyone likes to see excited applicant. That said, don’t make things up. If you do get past the cover letter and resume stage, it will be pretty obvious you were exaggerating your interest and that may be a turn-off during the interview.
Resumes aren’t the only thing that needs a periodic refresh. If you’ve been using the same cover letter template since your college internship, it’s time to think about whether that template still matches the type of work you’re seeking and reflects your professional qualifications. It’s not always what you say but how you say it. For example, “I’d like to gain experience in the XXXX field” is something in a typical college-level cover letter. In contrast, “My experience in XXX” makes me a great candidate” shows that you’ve matured.
There are other ways resumes get out of date that may be less obvious. For example, certain skills or not as relevant or important as they used to be due to changes in industry or technology. Chances are that you wouldn’t highlight your incredible faxing abilities even if you are looking for an executive administrative role given that so much more happens over email these days.
You should consider your cover letter is an opportunity. A good cover letter makes an important first impression and increases the odds your resume attachment will actually get opened, so make it count! Knowing how, whom, and what to address at the beginning of your letter can quite literally mean the difference between landing your dream job and not even landing the first interview.
Evangelia is an expert career coach at The Muse and founder of Career Ready Set Rock an independent consultancy for millennial women, moms and moms-to-be who want to make more moves, money and meaning in their lives and careers. Although Evangelia swears by strengths assessments and action plans, at heart she believes that the greatest life blessings and lessons come from being present, surrendering and having faith.
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