Did you know there's an average of 250 applicants applying for each open job? With those kinds of numbers it can be really tough to stand out. You are literally one of hundreds of people clamouring for attention. If you think about it, your resume (which can be inserted into the body of an email to which your resume is attached), is making your first impression. Don't waste that opportunity by sending something that doesn't represent you in the best way possible. In just 10 minutes, it's possible to give your cover letter a make-over that can make a big difference.
Here are 5 things you can do to improve your cover letter without a big investment of time:
1. Make It About Them.
If you don’t know enough about a job or an 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 company that excites you that makes you want to work there rather than the hundreds of other companies out there? Another trick to remember is 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 and flat. That’s why I’m interested in your XXX position.” Everyone likes to feel like they are wanted, and this is true in the job context as well.
2. Cut. It. Down.
When you skim your cover letter in 5 seconds, can you understand the gist of the message you’re trying to convey? Being brief for it’s own sake is not the point. Most hiring managers and recruiters have to sift through thousands of applicants and many cover letters and resumes all start to blend into each other. If your resume only gets a 6 second glance, you can imagine that your cover letter will only receive a similar amount of attention. Too often, I’ve seen 3 or 4 paragraph cover letters that would take someone 5 minutes to realistically read.
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, glance at it and see what jumps out at you. If it’s so dense that nothing in particular stands out, then it’s either too long, not very interesting or both. Your goal is to make sure something important stands out in 5-6 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.
3. Personalize As Much As Possible.
It’s very easy to use the same cover letter over and over. The only thing easier is to 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).
4. Explain Why You’re Interested.
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 a open slate in terms of allowing you to communicate your enthusiasm. Don’t waste that opportunity by rehashing your resume content.
If you believe in the company’s mission, say so! If you think the role is your dream job, don’t be shy in 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 resume and cover letter stage, it will be pretty obvious you were exaggerating your interest and that may be a turn-off to your interviewer.
5. Double Check It’s Up to Date!
Resumes aren’t the only thing that need 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 experience. 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.
In sum, 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!
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