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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 September 20, 2018

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

8 Ways to Train Your Brain to Learn Faster and Remember More

You go to the gym to train your muscles. You run outside or go for hikes to train your endurance. Or, maybe you do neither of those, but still wish you exercised more.

Well, here is how to train one of the most important parts of your body: your brain.

When you train your brain, you will:

  • Avoid embarrassing situations. You remember his face, but what was his name?
  • Be a faster learner in all sorts of different skills. No problem for you to pick up a new language or new management skill.
  • Avoid diseases that hit as you get older. Alzheimer’s will not be affecting you.

So how to train your brain and improve your cognitive skills?

1. Work your memory

Twyla Tharp, a NYC-based renowned choreographer has come up with the following memory workout:

When she watches one of her performances, she tries to remember the first twelve to fourteen corrections she wants to discuss with her cast without writing them down.

If you think this is anything less than a feat, then think again. In her book The Creative Habit she says that most people cannot remember more than three.

The practice of both remembering events or things and then discussing them with others has actually been supported by brain fitness studies.

Memory activities that engage all levels of brain operation—receiving, remembering and thinking—help to improve the function of the brain.

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Now, you may not have dancers to correct, but you may be required to give feedback on a presentation, or your friends may ask you what interesting things you saw at the museum. These are great opportunities to practically train your brain by flexing your memory muscles.

What is the simplest way to help yourself remember what you see? Repetition.

For example, say you just met someone new:

“Hi, my name is George”

Don’t just respond with, “Nice to meet you”. Instead, say, “Nice to meet you George.”

Got it? Good.

2. Do something different repeatedly

By actually doing something new over and over again, your brain wires new pathways that help you do this new thing better and faster.

Think back to when you were three years old. You surely were strong enough to hold a knife and a fork just fine. Yet, when you were eating all by yourself, you were creating a mess.

It was not a matter of strength, you see. It was a matter of cultivating more and better neural pathways that would help you eat by yourself just like an adult does.

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And guess what? With enough repetition you made that happen!

But how does this apply to your life right now?

Say you are a procrastinator. The more you don’t procrastinate, the more you teach your brain not to wait for the last minute to make things happen.

Now, you might be thinking “Duh, if only not procrastinating could be that easy!”

Well, it can be. By doing something really small, that you wouldn’t normally do, but is in the direction of getting that task done, you will start creating those new precious neural pathways.

So if you have been postponing organizing your desk, just take one paper and put in its right place. Or, you can go even smaller. Look at one piece of paper and decide where to put it: Trash? Right cabinet? Another room? Give it to someone?

You don’t actually need to clean up that paper; you only need to decide what you need to do with it.

That’s how small you can start. And yet, those neural pathways are still being built. Gradually, you will transform yourself from a procrastinator to an in-the-moment action taker.

3. Learn something new

It might sound obvious, but the more you use your brain, the better its going to perform for you.

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For example, learning a new instrument improves your skill of translating something you see (sheet music) to something you actually do (playing the instrument).

Learning a new language exposes your brain to a different way of thinking, a different way of expressing yourself.

You can even literally take it a step further, and learn how to dance. Studies indicate that learning to dance helps seniors avoid Alzheimer’s. Not bad, huh?

4. Follow a brain training program

The Internet world can help you improve your brain function while lazily sitting on your couch. A clinically proven program like BrainHQ can help you improve your memory, or think faster, by just following their brain training exercises.

5. Work your body

You knew this one was coming didn’t you? Yes indeed, exercise does not just work your body; it also improves the fitness of your brain.

Even briefly exercising for 20 minutes facilitates information processing and memory functions. But it’s not just that–exercise actually helps your brain create those new neural connections faster. You will learn faster, your alertness level will increase, and you get all that by moving your body.

Now, if you are not already a regular exerciser, and already feel guilty that you are not helping your brain by exercising more, try a brain training exercise program like Exercise Bliss.

Remember, just like we discussed in #2, by training your brain to do something new repeatedly, you are actually changing yourself permanently.

6. Spend time with your loved ones

If you want optimal cognitive abilities, then you’ve got to have meaningful relationships in your life.  Talking with others and engaging with your loved ones helps you think more clearly, and it can also lift your mood.

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If you are an extrovert, this holds even more weight for you. At a class at Stanford University, I learned that extroverts actually use talking to other people as a way to understand and process their own thoughts.

I remember that the teacher told us that after a personality test said she was an extrovert, she was surprised. She had always thought of herself as an introvert. But then, she realized how much talking to others helped her frame her own thoughts, so she accepted her new-found status as an extrovert.

7. Avoid crossword puzzles

Many of us, when we think of brain fitness, think of crossword puzzles. And it’s true–crossword puzzles do improve our fluency, yet studies show they are not enough by themselves.

Are they fun? Yes. Do they sharpen your brain? Not really.

Of course, if you are doing this for fun, then by all means go ahead. If you are doing it for brain fitness, then you might want to choose another activity

8. Eat right – and make sure dark chocolate is included

Foods like fish, fruits, and vegetables help your brain perform optimally. Yet, you might not know that dark chocolate gives your brain a good boost as well.

When you eat chocolate, your brain produces dopamine. And dopamine helps you learn faster and remember better. Not to mention, chocolate contains flavonols, antioxidants, which also improve your brain functions.

So next time you have something difficult to do, make sure you grab a bite or two of dark chocolate!

The bottom line

Now that you know how to train your brain, it’s actually time to start doing.

Don’t just consume this content and then go on with your life as if nothing has changed. Put this knowledge into action and become smarter than ever!

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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