3 Easy Ways to Improve Cover Letters

As a writer, cover letters intrigue me. I’m constantly amazed at the number of people I’ve met who hate writing them, don’t think employers read them, or don’t bother writing them at all. So if your head is nodding right now, let me ask this:

Do you buy a book without looking at the front and back cover, maybe flipping through the first few pages, either digitally or in your hands?

After watching a movie trailer, do you say to yourself, “Yes, gotta see that,” or “No thank you?!”

When you go to iTunes to check out a new artist’s music, do you listen to one of the cuts to see if you want more?

Would anyone get a date online if they didn’t carefully craft a statement about who they are, and why you should care?

A cover letter is no different. It’s the first impression an employer gets before deciding whether they’re a) interested enough to read your resume, b) interested enough to put you in the “yes” pile of candidates, and most importantly, c) interested enough to call you for an interview. It's an essential ingredient of a successful job search

Does every single Hiring Manager read cover letters? Perhaps not. But most do… if the letters do their job. Your objective is to stand out and make your letter compelling enough that the Hiring Manager wants to read on, and wants to meet you. It’s worth an hour to focus on nothing else, and make it so.

Recently I saw a job post that ended with these two sentences:

“We will only read the resumes of applicants with intriguing notes, so please focus your energy there. We are looking forward to learning more about you.”

Whether or not the job you want is this explicit, if you’re looking to get hired, do you really want to risk blowing it by writing a ho-hum letter or worse, not writing one at all?

Here are three things to remember when writing your cover letters that will help you get seen and remembered:

1) Remember you are talking to a person.

When deep in the quagmire of online applications and Automated Tracking Systems, it’s easy to forget that at some point, hopefully, a human (just like you!) will be reading your words. Talk to that person. Let your humanity communicate with their humanity, as long as it’s all professional. Good writing sounds natural, conversational; not clunky, robotic, or copied from a textbook. If you do use one of the many examples available online or elsewhere, that’s fine…just remember to tailor it and make it yours, so it doesn’t sound copied. A voice with authenticity is what we’re going for here.

2) Know the company, and what they’re looking for.

It’s a mind game. You need to get inside the head of the Hiring Manager, who has a lot of work to do and doesn’t want his or her time wasted. I always suggest clients begin the cover letter-writing process by printing out the job description, grabbing a highlighter, and pretending to be this Hiring Manager, looking to fill this position. If you read through it slowly and carefully, highlighting the most important responsibilities and qualifications, you will know exactly what you (I mean they) are looking for – what’s preferable and what’s mandatory – and what keywords are needed to ensure your letter gets read, whether by a person or a computer.

Now shift gears to being you again, the Job Seeker. Tell your story confidently and thoughtfully, demonstrating an understanding of their needs and how you can meet them. Be concise (no more than one page), and make sure there is plenty of white space.

3) Remember: it’s not about you.

Nothing personal, friends, but this is the deal. You may feel urgent, but everything moves slower on Job Seeker Time, and it’s easy to lose perspective and get lost in your own needs. When I see too many “I’s” in a cover letter, I say “AI YI YI-I-I-I!!!”

It’s not about you, it’s about them: the employers, the companies, the Hiring Managers you communicate with. Pay attention to what they need, what their problems are (do the research to find out). Tell them how you can be their solution, and make your story interesting! If you don’t find it interesting, how can someone else? You need to connect.

Keep these tips in mind and watch what happens. You may find the challenge of writing a strong cover letter gets a lot easier and a lot more fun…not to mention a lot more responses.