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I’ve Read More Than 500 Cover Letters and Here’s What I’ve Spotted

I’ve Read More Than 500 Cover Letters and Here’s What I’ve Spotted

There are about 3.69 million results on a Google search for “cover letter template,” which isn’t surprising. Many are concerned with making sure they have the right cover letter format, so they go searching for a template.

Here’s the problem with that approach: by definition, a template (especially those residing on Page 1 of Google’s search results) is something that thousands of people are using. This cannot stand out from others. Your cover letter begins from a very average place.

The average number of applicants to a job these days is 59,[1] with most jobs receiving far more. Recruiters and hiring managers simply don’t have the time to go through 60+ resumes and cover letters thoroughly without sacrificing many other priorities during the day.

A good, interesting cover letter — especially one that hooks the reader immediately — can be a huge difference in getting you a job. A generic cover letter on the same template the recruiter just saw 50 other times? No.

When we discuss cover letter format, then, let’s shift the focus to how to make yourself stand out as a candidate via your cover letter.

Make It Personal (Like You Know the Hiring Person)

This is actually much easier in the modern age, because you can use LinkedIn often to find the specific hiring manager for the position. For example, a writer job may report to a marketing or content marketing manager, and a design job might report to a marketing manager or Chief Designer. Once you know the hiring manager, you can personalize the cover letter format pretty easily:

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  • No sir/madam; use the name.
  • Look at their career arc and mention one commonality between theirs and yours.
  • Mention one skill or concept you think you could learn from them.

Now the cover letter is directed at one person and wholly personal. This is a great first step.

If you can, look up potential pain points for the employer online. Some sources are Google News, Seeking Alpha, The Wall Street Journal, and other financial sources. If you’ve determined the biggest problems they face and you have a few sentences about how your role could solve them, that might endear your candidacy to them.

Narrate Your Story

Nothing resonates for the human brain like stories. Tell a great one here — especially given the time constraints for a hiring manager to read all these letters. Some tips:

  • Use the inverted pyramid approach and put the most important information first.
  • Assume that with every additional word, the chances of the hiring manager continuing to read it declines. You can assume that because it’s been proven by research.[2]

A good story-driven intro might go something like this:

Hi Mr. Peterson,

I saw that you were a river guide for a while in your 20s. I was also for three years and a near-death experience I had with a group from a corporate retreat changed everything for me about how I considered my career arc.

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Mr. Peterson is likely to keep reading. The story has hooked him.

Play up Your Connection with the Company

This is where your research (LinkedIn and otherwise) comes into play. You need to convey why working for that specific company is important to you, not just the concept of having a job. The goal is to build emotional attachment based on the research you did. Here’s an example:

Hi Mr. Smith,

My dad always told me his best experiences were in family-owned businesses, so I’ve been gravitating towards those in my recent search. I discovered how many awards your team has won, including the 2017 Best Business award for the metro area, and I began doing additional research on your culture. It seems fantastic, especially that part about company-wide data accountability and bonding “color days.” I’ve been searching for a great fit like this since those long conversations about being a male and career-building with my dad, and your approach seems excellent. I’d love to show you why I’m the best candidate here.

This references research, shows you care about the company, and plays to the ego of those already inside the company. It’s a triple win!

Focus on 3 Attributes Only

When the iPhone first came out, there were over 200 features. Steve Jobs could have discussed them all in that famous opening press event. He discussed seven only. If he had discussed 200+, the event would have taken forever and no one would remember the key elements.

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You don’t need seven features for a cover letter, but picking three attributes is usually a good start. It may look something like this:

I believe I can add value in this role in three specific ways, namely advanced data analysis, communication and presentation of that data to senior leadership, and project management around the initial stages of transferring what the data says into a direct action plan. I’ve been working in the data context space for six years, and some examples of my biggest projects include…

The letter/section would go on, but the important point is that you specifically defined your value adds. The experiences underscoring those value adds comes next.

At this point, the optimal cover letter format focuses on:

  • Emotions
  • Stories
  • Personal context
  • Background research
  • Defining your value-add
  • Friendly tone

And now, let’s get to some more logistics.

Make It Easy-To-Read

This means font (Arial, Courier New, Times New Roman, etc.) and size (usually 12-14). Use standard margins. It should be one page or shorter, and save it (as with your resume) as a PDF instead of a MS Word file, which can look different across different devices.[3]

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Also make sure it’s clearly labeled as the cover letter, as oftentimes you’ll send as attachments with the resume. While this may seem minor, confusing a recruiter or hiring manager for even a few seconds could get your cover letter tossed.

The baseline: no mistakes. Avoid typos, run-on sentences, poor grammar, or misspellings (especially of the company or hiring manager’s name). This is a baseline that will get any cover letter tossed aside. Proofread it and make sure you run it through a spell check process.

The Bottom Line on Cover Letter Format

As the number of applications to a standard position rises, you have to make your cover letter stand out. An impressive cover letter will get you through those top of funnel hiring stages and onward to an interview with the hiring manager.

Your cover letter format is less about the exact best template and more about the story you convey. That’s going to push the door further open in the hiring process.

Reference

More by this author

Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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Last Updated on August 13, 2020

12 Essential Apps for Entrepreneurs To Be Highly Productive

12 Essential Apps for Entrepreneurs To Be Highly Productive

If you are an entrepreneur, then you are aware of the importance of time management. There are only 24 hours in a day, which means you must manage your hours properly to be able to get a lot of work done.

With so much on your shoulders, you need to get organized. How do you achieve that? You do it by becoming tech-savvy and incorporating productivity apps to help you remain on the right track. Below are 12 essential productivity apps for entrepreneurs.

1. Evernote

    Evernote makes it on the list because of one simple reason, besides being your little note book for scribbling your thoughts: Its freeware version is available for Web, iOS and Android. Stay organized across all your devices. Sync files, save Web pages, capture photos, create to-do lists and record voice reminders. What more do you need? Apart from all this, you can also search your tasks on the go.

    2. DropBox

      DropBox delivers instant connectivity and enables the sharing of photos, documents and videos with any laptop or mobile device through the free cloud-based file-storing service. This app is extremely handy for sharing files with your team, which prevents back-and-forth emailing. With the version control feature, you have a convenient way of sharing the latest version with your team.

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      3. Audible

        Ever wondered where entrepreneurs get their ideas from? Surely, they aren’t born with them! Any established entrepreneur you come across is probably very well-read. Hint: Take a chance at reading books and gaining knowledge to spruce up your mind. To help you do just that on the go, try Audible. It lets you listen to books without having to actually focus on reading while you are out travelling or just doing chores.

        4. TripIt: Travel Planner

          Being an entrepreneur means a lot of travelling. It gets hard to keep track of travelling schedules and bookings. With TripIt you no longer have to worry, because it organizes your travels by forwarding your booking confirmations to an email address.

          5. Lastpass

            “Errr…so what was the password?” With so many things on your mind, it can be cumbersome to remember passwords that are usually a combination of various letters and numbers. With a freeware version available for PCs and Macs, Lastpass is your personal-password manager, and form filler, that frees you from remembering your passwords. It costs $12 for the premium version that is available to download on your mobile device.

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            6. Any.Do

              Want to enter tasks on your iPhone? Use Any.Do. With its simple interface, you can add tasks either by speech or typing. If you’re logged on to your Facebook account, you can even share tasks with your contacts. Want to be alerted about a task? Add an alarm, and highlight it so that it takes precedence over other tasks. You can also add further notes and put them in a personal or work folder. The app also allows syncing with other devices to make sure you are always at the top of your game.

              7. CamCard

                Entrepreneurs attend several conferences during the year where they meet useful contacts. Exchanging business cards is the norm in conferences, but it is also very easy to lose a business card and, ultimately, a  business prospect! Don’t let this happen to you. With CamCard, you can take a picture of your business card and have all the details automatically uploaded into your phone contacts and other email accounts. Because of its accuracy, you can be assured of flawless scanning. The best part is that you can sync data across other devices too. The app is usually free for iPhone, but its cost on other mobile phones is $3.26.

                8. Flowdock

                  A mix of chat and inbox tools, Flowdock is a convenient way of collaborating with team members on various projects. The best part is that the app works on most browsers and mobile platforms, and it gives you features such as drag and drop, file uploads and activity streams. Your team members can get instant updates about any change on the project to which they can respond through chat messages.

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                  9. Instapaper

                    The Internet is filled with blogs and articles. Amp up your creativity by reading new posts at a time that suits you. Through Instapaper, you can save an interesting article to read at a more convenient time and in a reader-friendly format.

                    10. Expensify

                      While travelling, you probably want to keep your receipts to claim office expenses once you get home. But why go through the hassle of keeping all these receipts when a smartphone can do the same for you? By using your phone’s camera, you can take pictures of your receipts as a digital record in chronological order. Expensify also lets you log mileage, meal expenses and other business-related travel costs.

                      11. Upwork

                        Screening through resumes and tracking applicants can be cumbersome. You want to hire the best possible people for your company without wasting too much time scanning resumes. So use Upwork to help you perform these tasks; the app helps you manage the entire hiring process. This allows you to spend more time hiring instead of doing manual paper-work sorting out resumes.

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                        The app is also online so it receives all resumes in one place and tracks each candidate’s progress through application stages.

                        12. Zoom

                          Probably the most effective method for remaining in touch with all your employees, Zoom has become an office norm for instant communication and connectivity. With its app version available for mobile phones, connectivity has taken a new form by allowing entrepreneurs to schedule and attend important business conference calls on the go.

                          Bottom Line

                          By using these productivity apps, you have a better chance of organizing a systematic approach for performing tasks. There are many entrepreneurs who are striving for success. However, only a few stand apart on the basis of their work ethic and capacity to grow by incorporating smart apps in their routine.

                          Allow yourself a competitive edge by incorporating these handy productivity apps to enhance your company’s growth.

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