5 Ways to Make Sure Your Cover Letter Communicates Your Strengths
Finding a job is almost never a painless process. According to a new eye-tracking study by The Ladders, your resume might only get six seconds of a recruiter’s time, but submitting a well-composed cover letter that appropriately highlights your strengths could be what gets your application into the “Yes” pile.
5 rules to write a strong cover letter
It won’t take more than two minutes on Google to find hundreds of cover letter tutorials, examples, and advice articles, but you shouldn’t get too caught up in the mechanics of your letter.
Remember, your cover letter is a chance for your personality to shine through, and it’s the best way to show that you have strengths that will make you an excellent candidate for the job at hand. Here are five rules to follow when writing a cover letter that showcases your strengths:
1. Know your own strengths
I’m always surprised by how few job seekers really know how to describe their own strengths. Take out a sheet of paper, look at your prior experience, think about your interests and natural abilities, and write yourself a list.
The format isn’t that important. Your list can contain personality traits, unique experiences, certifications, or special areas of study. Without knowing your own strengths, there is no way that you can convey them effectively to an employer, so this step cannot be overlooked.
2. Know the company and the position
My cover letters have been the most successful when I knew someone who had a similar job at the same company. I would spend as much time as possible asking them about it, and making notes of the key traits that would be important for the job.
In comparing your own strengths with those that the job will demand, you may find that it isn’t a great fit for your personality. On the other hand, you may see that you’ve got a near perfect skill-set for it, and that’s something you’ll need to convey once you actually compose your cover letter.
3. Know the hiring manager or recruiter
This may be difficult, but if possible, find out who will likely be reading your cover letter. If the position is with a large company, you might be able to find the department’s human resources manager online, and if it’s a small company, it’s possible that your future manager will be the one making the hire.
If you don’t know for sure, take the time to call the company and ask them about the position. Tell them that you’d like to address your cover letter to the right person, and once you know who it is, use it to your advantage. Don’t become a stalker or anything, but look them up on Linkedin, and find out what they’re interested in or if you have any mutual connections.
Believe me, it’s 1,000 times harder to ignore a cover letter from someone who has taken the time to find out a little about you than it is from someone who copied and pasted a generic one.
4. Weave a complete story
When it comes to actually writing your cover letter, people will tell you to do a three paragraph letter that has an introduction, body, and conclusion. While I understand that some people may need a rigid formula like this, it’s way better if you can craft a vivid and compelling story.
An effective story will marry your own strengths, the traits you know the company values, and a feeling of connectedness to the hiring manager. I’ll admit that this is easier said than done, but a great cover letter will make the reader want to keep going. A boring one is much more likely to end up half-read in the discard pile.
5. Get a critical friend
Even if you’ve crafted an excellent story about why you’re the best fit for the company and the position, a single typo might send you flying out of consideration.
Details are something that I struggle with, so I have several friends who are sticklers for grammar and spelling that I turn to when I’m writing something formal like a cover letter. If you aren’t the world’s strongest writer, this is an extremely important part of your cover letter writing process.
While there’s no guarantee that a great cover letter will get you an interview, it certainly increases your chances. The important thing is that you don’t get discouraged; remember, every cover letter you write will make your next one that much better, so not even a rejected letter is a waste of time.
Just keep in mind that your strengths are your biggest asset, and it’s important not to ignore them.
About the author
Karl L. Hughes is a technology entrepreneur in online publishing. He is the founder of Job Brander, a website devoted to helping entry level marketing professionals find the best jobs and internships possible.