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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

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Brian Lee

Chief of Product Management at Lifehack

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Published on October 16, 2020

13 Productive Things to Do on a Sunday

13 Productive Things to Do on a Sunday

Sunday’s are amazing days. For most of us, Sunday’s are a day of rest — a chance to relax, spend time with our family and friends and step away from work. Yet, for many people, Sunday’s can be a day of gloom. The thought of having to go back to work the next day and rejoin the hustle and bustle of everyday working life creates a dark cloud over a day that should be a joy.

With the right approach, though, Sunday’s can be days of rejuvenation—a chance to recharge our batteries—and to set ourselves up for a fantastic week. It is just a matter of the way you look at Sundays.

Sunday’s give me a chance to take stock of how my week has gone and decide what I want to achieve the following week. Each Sunday allows me to step back from the everyday grind and to measure my progress against the plan I had for the week and to reset that plan to make the next week even better.

Here are 13 ways you can turn Sunday’s into amazingly productive days:

1. Wake up at Your Normal Time

I grew up thinking Sunday’s were a great day to ‘catch-up on my sleep’. The problem here is by over-sleeping on a Sunday, you often find it difficult to get to sleep Sunday night and that begins the cycle of sleep debt you want to avoid.[1]

Waking up at your normal time maintains regular sleep patterns and this helps to make sure your sleep schedule is consistent throughout the week. When you are in a perpetual sleep debt all week, your productivity will sink. Ensuring you have a good night sleep every night, keeps you in a highly productive state.

2. Start the Day With “Me-Time”

“Me-time” is time you give to yourself.[2] It’s time you can spend doing all the things you love doing without the fear of being interrupted. That could be exercise, reading, going for a long walk or meditation.

Before Google and smartphones, people in the U.K. used to wake up on a Sunday morning, take a short walk to the local newsagent to buy the Sunday papers. The Sunday papers had all sort of supplements on books, lifestyle, gardening and fashion.

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You would get home, settle into your favourite armchair and spend an hour or two reading through all these supplements. For me, I would put on some relaxing music and just relax with a nice cup of tea. It was a wonderful way to spend Sunday morning. No stress, no pressure, just me and the Sunday papers.

Decide what you want to do with your Sunday morning, make sure it is focused on you and start this week. You will thank yourself for it.

3. Do Some Exercise

Now, this does not mean you go out and do a 10-mile run or spend one or two hours in the gym. What this means is to get outside and move.

Our lifestyles today have taken away a lot of natural movement. This has become particularly prominent this year with many of us having to work from home. Those walks to the bus stop, train station and the office have gone. Now we get up, move from one room to another, sit down and start work.

Sunday’s give you a chance to move. Take that opportunity. Get yourself outside for an hour or two. Enjoy nature. Go with your family or friends and just have a relaxing hour or two in nature. This is possibly one of the best ways to reduce stress, get some healthy exercise and set yourself up for a wonderful week.

4. Plan the Day

Not having a plan for the day will leave you at the mercy of outside events. Instead, decide on Saturday evening what you will do the next day. Make sure you wake up at your normal time, indulge in your favourite morning drink and start your day.

Having no plan for the day, will likely result in you waking up late, making it difficult to get a good night’s sleep the next evening and you will waste the opportunity to make the day count.

Your plan does not have to be too detailed. Something similar to:

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  • Wake up and make coffee
  • Put on some great music
  • Sit down and enjoy coffee
  • Take a 2-hour walk
  • Read for an hour or two
  • Spend some time with the kids

Just make sure you have a rough plan for the day, but keep things as flexible as possible.

5. Watch a Sports Game

This is a great way to get yourself away from thinking about work and your troubles. I’m a big rugby and motorsport fan and even in these difficult pandemic times, there are plenty of sports events I can watch on YouTube.

Whatever sport you enjoy, take some time on Sunday to watch a game. Just getting into the game, enjoying the skills on show and marvelling at the professionalism removes you from your everyday world for a while. It’s a great way to give your brain some much-needed relaxation and provides a wonderful distraction from your everyday normal life.

6. Make Sure You Do Something Different

Doing the same things day after day will eventually turn every day into a grind. You want to be looking forward to your Sunday’s. Plan to go out for a drive in the countryside, or a walk in an unfamiliar park, or go to the cinema or an outside concert.

Do anything that breaks up your routine. Like watching a sports game, it takes you away from the normal everyday life you lead and gives you something refreshingly different to enjoy and experience.

7. Clean Up

I know, most people hate doing house chores but having a clean, ordered home does wonders for your overall mental wellbeing. I love ending Sunday with a beautifully clean home, knowing everything is in its place, the floors are clean and all my laundry is put away and ready for the following week.

It can be hard to find the time to stay on top of all the cleaning during the week, so setting aside some time each Sunday to do a cleanup leaves you feeling refreshed, energized and ready for whatever the following week will throw at you.

8. Prepare You Clothes for the Following Week

This may seem a bit excessive, but it saves so much time and cognitive overload. All it takes is one bad night’s sleep and you wake up and find yourself rushing around trying to get yourself ready for your first appointment.

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In that state, trying to decide what clothes to wear in another decision you just don’t need. It’s far better to make a rough plan on a Sunday what you will wear for work and have all these clothes ready, washed and ironed.

It also prevents discovering the shirt you want to wear for the early morning meeting is still in the laundry basket when you need it. Plan ahead. It saves so much time and stress.

9. Do a Weekly Planning Session

I’ve experimented doing a weekly planning session on different days but by far, the best day to plan is Sunday. I find that Sunday evenings are the best times to open up my calendar and to-do list, and to plan for the week ahead. It sets me up for the week ahead.

It also helps me to sleep better on Sunday evening, knowing exactly what I need to accomplish the following week. I can start Monday morning without wasting time trying to figure out where things were left the previous Friday.

What I am looking for are where all my meetings are, which days I can focus on my deep and project work and to make sure I have everything processed from the week before.

10. Clear Out Your Email

What? Doing email on a Sunday? Yes. Why? Because the worst thing you can do is start the new week with an inbox full of last week’s unreplied-to emails.

For most of us, Monday morning is likely to be the one day in the week we do not have a lot of email in our inboxes, so we can begin the day on our most important project work. If you spend an hour or two cleaning up your email from last week, you miss a tremendous opportunity to start with a clean slate.

We don’t get a lot of email in on a Sunday, so you can process your inbox and actionable folders to make sure when the new week begins, you not only have a set of outcomes you want to achieve that week, but also begin the new week with no hangovers from the week before.

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11. Do Some Work on Your Side Project

Now, this does not mean work. This means your own personal projects. It could be a DIY project, doing something in your garden, restoring an old car or writing your book.

Sunday’s give you incredible opportunities to do all those things you dream of doing but never seem to find time to do them. Just getting on and doing these side projects removes you from your everyday work, and allows you a few hours to do the things you love doing.

12. Read a Book

During the week, it can be hard to read a good book. We get up, rush out the door to get to work (or move to our home work station and start the computer). When we finish the day, we are exhausted and just want to vegetate in front of the TV.

Don’t waste Sunday’s. They give you a great opportunity to spend time with the books you want to read.

13. Prepare You Meals for the Following Week

This is a great one for those of you who are following a healthy diet and exercise plan. Preparing meals for the following week not only saves a lot of time, it also encourages you to eat healthy on those exhausting days when all you want to do is eating pizza and flopping down on the sofa.

Having a set of pre-prepared meals reduces the temptation during the week when your willpower is at its lowest. It’s quick, healthy and easy to do. It makes sure you are sticking to your diet plan.

Bottom Line

I am not suggesting you try and fit all these things into Sunday. Just pick a few that resonate with you. Do those that will give you the biggest benefit and most joy.

Sunday’s need to be restful, relaxing and give you a chance to do those things you do not normally have time to do. It’s an incredible day, so don’t waste it laying in bed watching endless episodes of your favourite TV series.

More of What You Can Do During Weekend

Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

Reference

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