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Published on October 8, 2018

Writing the Best Cover Letter for Job Application to Land Your Dream Job

Writing the Best Cover Letter for Job Application to Land Your Dream Job

Most hiring managers are busy. Before the hiring process even begins, they are likely juggling too much. When they get to the point of being ready to bring on new talent, they must then juggle the recruitment process with their day-to-day responsibilities.

To allow the process to run as smoothly and quickly as possible, hiring managers sometimes enlist the support of a recruiter or the human resources department.

Prior to the beginning the search process, the hiring manager will share a list of attributes and desired skills they want prospective candidates to possess. The recruiter or human resources representative will then quickly narrow candidates by reviewing resumes, cover letters, referral documents, social media profiles or through screening interviews.

I have been a hiring manager for 16 years, and over the course of this time, I have reviewed thousands of cover letters. Most have been dull, but some have been captivating, inspiring me to give the candidate a closer look.

To ensure you stand out from the crowd, I recommend you these 8 tips for the best cover letter for job application to land your dream job:

1. Read the Application Guidelines

While most positions require a cover letter, some employers will explicitly tell you what they want to see in the cover letter.

For instance, some companies will ask you to document relevant experience, and some may ask you to detail how you might approach your initial 90 days with the company.

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The point is there is no such thing as a standard cover letter, so read the guidelines or application instructions thoroughly before you begin crafting your cover letter.

2. Avoid Making the Letter All About You

As much as you want and need to highlight your accomplishments, the cover letter should be a good blend of who you are and what you can offer.

You want to quickly summarize relevant experience, while also speaking to how your candidacy and employment will meet the company’s needs now and in the future.

3. Acknowledge Why You’re Interested in the Company, Not Just the Position

Everyone wants to be wanted for who they are, not what they can offer. Companies are no exception.

Culturally-aware executives want to hire people who have a genuine interest in the company’s mission, not just the vacant position.

Many companies place a higher premium on mission-alignment than they do on talent. This is key because a talented person who does not buy-in to the company’s mission and vision will ultimately become a hindrance to growth and may adversely impact the company culture.

Further, the danger of coming across as “just looking for a job” is hiring managers have no indication how long you will stay with their organization.

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Most managers want to gamble on someone who they reasonably believe will remain with their company for a minimum of a couple of years, but much longer if possible.

4. Speak to What You can Offer to the Company

The cover letters that catch my attention are the ones that speak to what a person can bring to my company.

While I am interested in candidate’s background, I am also interested in the value-add they bring to the organization. If a hiring manager wants a list of accomplishments or work history, they can scan the resume.

The cover letter should offer a broader glimpse into the candidate and what they offer the organization.

5. Mirror the Company’s Language

Prior to drafting a cover letter, go through your prospective employer’s website. Check out their press releases, annual reports, white papers and other material to get a sense of the language they use and how they talk about their work.

Once you understand or have a good sense of company vernacular, begin working on your cover letter. Mirroring the words and phrases the company uses signals that you understand the industry you are seeking to enter which is a bonus for many employers.

6. Customize Your Letter

If you are mirroring the language of the company to which you are applying, you will need to tailor or customize your cover letter.

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Customizing your letter gives it character. If you use a standard template for cover letters, the lack of effort you invest in presenting yourself to the prospective employer will show.

More serious candidates who take the time to write customized letters will undoubtedly have the upper hand.

Besides, there is nothing worse than using the same standard letter for all openings, only to mistakenly send the wrong letter to the wrong employer. The bad impression may be impossible to overcome.

7. Copy-Edit Your Letter

It is essential to copy-edit your cover letter before submitting it for a position. This is one of the easiest things to overlook, and it is one of the fastest things that will cause you to be disqualified during the screening process.

When hiring managers, interview screeners are reviewing multiple candidates, they look for quick and easy ways to narrow the applicant pool. Many will set aside a resume, cover letter or writing samples with errors on them. And they rightly should.

If you don’t exercise attention to detail in catching typos or grammatical errors when applying for a position, a hiring manager has no reason to believe you will apply diligence once employed with them.

8. Include Contact Information

Once you write a compelling cover letter, make it easy for the hiring manager or recruiter to contact you.

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In your signature, include your phone number and email address. In the event, your cover letter is separated from your resume, the recruiter will not have to go digging for how to find you.

9. Put the Letter Away for a Day or a Few Hours

Without fail, I am always surprised by how much my writing improves when I take the time to put my writing away for anywhere from several hours to a day or more.

I catch typos that I inadvertently missed during the initial review, and I find new and more succinct ways of making my point. I can cut extraneous words and phrases, which results in punchier lines and more impactful sentences.

Cover letter writing is no exception. Try to write your cover letter and put it away for a minimum of a few hours and a maximum of a couple of days. You will not regret how distance improves your copy.

The Bottom Line

While it may appear there is a lot to do prior to submitting cover letters, the bottom line is to apply as much thought and attention to detail as possible.

Doing this will place you several steps ahead of the competition positioning you to land the dream job you have always imagined.

Featured photo credit: Glenn Carstens-Peters via unsplash.com

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Jennifer R. Farmer

An author and public relations expert specializes in helping socially-conscious entrepreneurs, celebrities and activists

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Last Updated on April 23, 2019

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

How to Set Stretch Goals and Keep Your Team Motivated

Stretch goals are a lot like physical fitness. When you adopt a physical sport such as running, continual practice leads to increased stamina, growth and progress.

While commitment to the sport improves performance, true growth happens when you are stretched beyond your comfort zone. I know this from personal experience.

For years, I was an avid runner. I ran with a variety of running groups in the Washington, D.C., area and in Columbus, Ohio, where I lived prior to moving to the nation’s capital in 2011.

While I was initially fearful about slacking off on my exercise habit when I moved to D.C., running enthusiasts in the area provided continual motivation, inspiring me to lace up my shoes day after day. Much to my surprise, many of the area’s running stores (including Pacers and Potomac River Running) boasted running groups that met in the mornings and evenings. So, it was relatively easy for a newcomer like me to connect with like-minded peers.

I was never a particularly fast runner, but I enjoyed the afterglow of the sport: being completely drained but feeling a sense of accomplishment; setting and reaching goals; buying and wearing out new tennis shoes. The sound of throngs of feet pounding the pavement in semi-unison is still enough to bring tears to my eyes. Yes, I sometimes tear up at the start of races.

Of all the groups I ran with, the Pacers Store group that met on Monday nights in Logan Circle boasted the fastest runners. I met up with the group week after week only to be the slowest runner. It was difficult to muster the courage to get up every week and meet the group knowing what was waiting for me: sweating and watching the backs of fellow runners.

Each time I joined the group, I was stretching myself without even realizing it. Instead of feeling like I was transitioning into a better running, for a long time I felt I was torturing myself.

Then something remarkable happened. I went for a run with a different set of runners and noticed my time had improved. I was running at a faster pace and doing so with ease. What was once uncomfortable for me I now handled with ease.

The reason I was becoming a better runner was because I was taking myself out of my comfort zone and challenging myself physically and mentally. This example illustrates the process of growth.

Fortunately, we can create situations that stretch us in our personal and professional lives.

What Is a Stretch Goal?

A stretch goal – as authors Sim B. Sitkin, C. Chet Miller and Kelly E. See detail an article “The Stretch Goal Paradox” in Harvard Business Review[1] – is something that is extremely difficult and novel. It is something that not everyone does, and it’s sometimes considered impossible.

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In general, you establish stretch goals by doing things that are difficult or temporarily challenging.

For instance, when I was first promoted to a senior communications management role, I knew I needed to beef up my relationships with media personalities. I set a goal to once a month book a day of media interviews in New York City – which is home to many media outlets, including SiriusXM radio, CNN, NBC News, HuffPost, VIBE.

This was a huge goal because it meant not only identifying the right people to meet with but convincing them to meet with me and my team. While I didn’t end up meeting the goal of doing a full day of media interviews in New York City, I met more people than I would have met had I not established the goal and instead stayed in the comfort of my D.C. office.

It is important to note that just because you establish a stretch goal doesn’t mean you’ll achieve the goal each time. However, the process of trying is guaranteed to provide some level of growth.

The Importance of Creating Stretch Goals

The beginning of the year is a perfect time to assess where you are excelling and where there is room for you to grow. I typically start the year by creating a yearlong strategic plan for myself.

I think about the things that are necessary to do and things that would be cool to do. I assess the people I should know and think through how to meet them. Then I ask myself if the goals are realistic and what would need to happen for me to achieve them.

Over time, I have learned that there are five things I can do to set stretch goals:

1. Get Outside of Your Head

If I exist within the confines of my imagination, I imperil my own growth and creativity.

If I examine my accomplishments and celebrate them in isolation of others’ accomplishments, my vantage point is limited.

I want to be comfortable with what I accomplish, but I also want to be motivated by watching others. In some respects, stretching is about expanding your network of friends, associates and mentors. These are the people who will propel or slow your growth and development.

Since two are better than one, I always value being able to share my progress with others, seek feedback and then map a plan for success.

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2. Focus on a Couple Areas at a Time

When setting goals, it is important to focus on a couple of areas at a time. Most of us are only able to focus on a few things at a time, and if you feel you are unable to tackle all that is before you, you may simply disengage.

I see this in so many areas of life:

When people get in debt, if they believe the debt is insurmountable, they refuse to look at incoming bills for fear of facing down the debt. Unfortunately, many businesses go awry when setting stretch goals.

In “The Stretch Goal Paradox,” Sitkin, Miller and See note:

“Our research suggests that though the use of stretch goals is quite common, successful use is not. And many executives set far too many stretch goals. In the past five years, for example, Tesla failed to meet more than 20 of founder Elon Musk’s ambitious projections and missed half of them by nearly a year, according to the Wall Street Journal.”

Goal-setting is like a marathon, not a sprint. It doesn’t all need to happen at the same time, and pacing is extremely important if you want to get to the finish line. It is better to focus on a couple goals at a time, master them and then move on to the next thing.

3. Set Aside Time Each Year to Focus on Goal-Setting

When I was a managing director for communications for the Advancement Project, I spent the first part of every year facilitating a communications planning meeting.

The planning meeting began with the team members assessing the goals the team had established in the preceding year, and whether those goals were realistic or not. If we failed to meet certain goals, we broke down why that happened. From there, we brainstormed about possibilities for the current year.

For instance, one year we set a goal of pitching and getting 24 opinion essays published. This was audacious because no one on the eight-person team had the luxury of focusing exclusively on editing and pitching opinion essays to publications around the world. We would need to focus on pitching in between the rest of our work.

We hit this goal within the first eight months of the year. Remarkably, in total, we ended up getting 40 opinion essays published that year, which was an indication that our original goal was too low. We upped the goal to 41 the next year, and amazingly, we hit 42 published opinion essays or guest columns.

From this experience, we not only learned what was feasible, we also learned the power of focus.

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When we focused as a team on getting the commentary on our issues out in the public domain, we were successful. The key in all of this is that there was a ton of discussion around which goal we’d pursue and why.

Equally important, as a manager, I didn’t set the goals alone; the team members and I established the goals collaboratively. This ensured buy-in from each individual.

4. Use the S.M.A.R.T. Goal Model to Set Realistic Goals

S.M.A.R.T.

is a synonym for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time-bound. For the sake of this article, the realistic portion of the acronym is most important.

While you want to set audacious goals, you want to ensure that they are realistic as well. No one is served by setting a goal that is impossible to accomplish.

Failing to meet goals can be demoralizing for teams, so it’s important to be sober-eyed about what is possible. Additionally, the purpose of setting goals is to advance and grow, not depress morale.

For instance, my team would have been discouraged had I begun the year asking it to pitch and place 40 opinion essays if we didn’t already have a track record of placing close to two dozen essays.

By using the S.M.A.R.T. formula, we were able to achieve all that we set out to do.

5. Break the Goal up into Small Digestible Parts

I am a recovering perfectionist. As a writer, being a perfectionist can be counterproductive because I can fail to start if I don’t see a clear pathway to victory.

The same is true with goal-setting. That’s why I join Lifehack’s fellow contributor Deb Knobelman, Ph.D., in noting that it is critically important to break goals into bite-sized chunks.

When I had a goal of doing daylong media meetings in New York City, I had to think through all the barriers to achieving that goal and all the steps required to meet the goal.

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One step was identifying which reporters, producers and hosts to engage. Another step was writing a pitch or meeting invitation that would capture their attention. Another step was thinking through the program areas I wanted to highlight and the new angles I could offer to different reporters.

Since reporters want to cover stories that no one else has written, I needed to come up with fresh angles for each of the reporters I was engaging. An additional step was thinking through who from my team I’d take with me to the various meetings.

I was clear that, as a talking head, as public relations reps are sometimes called, I needed the right spokesperson in order to land repeated meetings with different outlets.

A final step was thinking through what I needed to bring to each meeting and which reports, videos and testimonials would buttress our claims and be of interest to media figures.

As I walked through what was needed to bring my goal of doing daylong meetings to reality, I realized that not only was the idea within reach, but I was excited to tackle the challenge.

From that point until now, I have learned to break down goals into smaller parts and tackle the smaller parts on the path to knocking the goal out of the park.

The Bottom Line

These are my recommendations for setting stretch goals, and there are a ton of other resources to support you in the workplace and in your community.

For instance, LinkedIn’s Lynda.com platform has a wonderful suite of leadership development videos, including ones on establishing stretch goals. This is a paid resource but may be worth the investment if you lead a team or want to invest in tools for your own growth and development.

Featured photo credit: Avatar of user Isaac Smith Isaac Smith @isaacmsmith Isaac Smith via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Harvard Business Review: The Stretch Goal Paradox

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