Humans by nature prefer to do the task that is predictable and structured so as to avoid confusion and uncertainty. When I think about job applications, I personally feel that only one part of the application process is truly unstructured: the cover letter.
No, the cover letter is not just an extension of the resume and it definitely shouldn’t be. Although, it is defined as a document that “provides additional information on your skills and experience”, there is certainly no reason to simply re-write what you have already written in your resume. What’s the resume for then?
You have the qualifications necessary for the job. However, when you think about it, another applicant probably does too. You’ve always been successful at managing a team. Great! But, maybe other applicants have managed several teams and for the longer period. The resume won’t necessarily make you stand out of the crowd. Your cover letter; however, can tell the employer why you wanted to apply for the job and what you can offer that others cannot. Think of it as your Unique Selling Point (USP).
You have a few paragraphs to get their attention. It may be your only chance to add personality and spark interest before the interview. If you’re successful, be sure to stick around your phone when it rings.
Here are six tips on writing a compelling cover letter you probably haven’t heard of before.
1. Always Keep it Crisp
I don’t mean short and snappish crisp. By crisp, I mean it should be freshly written and up-to-date. You don’t want to pick up a cover letter you wrote six years ago while you were in college applying for a part-time at McDonald’s. Write it all over again. Any cover letter you write should be targeted towards the company, the specific job, and the position you are applying for. It should include your most recent accomplishments and highlight all of the skills you’ve developed over time. Plus, the “rules” your teacher taught you six years ago are probably as antiquated as your desktop computer at the time.
2. Do Your Homework
You’re probably tired of hearing this phrase because when it comes to the job application process, it’s everywhere. Research on the company, research on the employers, and research on what they could ask…yada yada. It’s frustrating, I know. But it’s necessary! Yes, even before you write up your cover letter, you need to dig deep into what rules to follow, different types of cover letters, contemporary examples in various writing styles, and other information that would help you write a knock-out cover letter.
3. Draft it Up
Once you’ve got all the points you need, get straight to drafting! Try not to go overboard with the research. Do not re-write something someone else wrote. As we mentioned before, this part of the application process is not entirely systematized. This means that you should give yourself the freedom to spill your own personality and interests in accordance with the position you are applying for. Some of the best two paragraphs can take hours to devise. Give yourself plenty of time to craft compelling reasons for them to hire you and what you are willing to offer. As Eddie Beverage from Live Career says, a cover letter should focus on your employer and the position, so DON’T make it about you and only your needs.
4. Go for Broke
Imagine being an employer for a second and reading the following objective at the top of a resume: “My name is Irene, and I want to work in a challenging position in a reputable organization having a professional environment, prospects of growth, and ample opportunities of learning to develop skill, proficiency, and experience.”
If you are perceptive enough, you probably already know that this person copy-pasted an overly-long sentence off of another resume and doesn’t mean a word of it. Employers complain that MOST applicants tend to be overly predictable and quite boring. Given the amount of time employers have to scan resumes and cover letters during the screening process, you have only a few seconds to get their attention. How do you stand out? Push yourself to take that risk and give your cover letter a spin by adding pizzazz to your intro. It might be risky, but it is the only way you ensure you will grab the employer’s attention.
As marketing expert and influential speaker Seth Godin says, “In a battle between two ideas, the best one doesn’t necessarily win. No, the idea that wins is the one with the most fearless heretic behind it.” ― from his book, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.
5. Lean on A Friend
Ask a friend with fabulous writing skills to do you a favor and edit your final document. Not only will a friend give you a different perspective (like what you should or shouldn’t be including), but also correct your over-looked mistakes.
6. Print it Out
Chances are that you’ve done your spell-checks, payed careful attention to those green or red flags, and already asked a friend to give it one final look. Now, you’re ready to attach it and hit send. Wait, don’t do it yet! Before you do that, print it out and read it aloud. When you’re trying to spot mistakes, this technique works like magic.
Even if a cover letter isn’t required, don’t skimp on what could be your only chance to make an impression. The cover letter isn’t meant to be an agonizing step to the application process, but rather an opportunity to “Sell Yourself” differently compared to others. So, CARPE DIEM…. Tell a story your resume could never narrate.
Featured photo credit: Tom Hanks/Maria Elena via flickr.com