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Write A Killer Cover Letter In 7 Easy Steps

Write A Killer Cover Letter In 7 Easy Steps

So you want to write that killer cover letter to land your dream job? Not so fast. You’ve got to give your cover letter the respect it deserves. For years, the Hiring Manager at XYZ Corporation has been reading all kinds of these letters, giving a few the green light… but she’s been rejecting all the rest. In order to grab her attention in all the right ways, follow these seven easy steps.

1. The Appearance

If your overall presentation isn’t top notch, then it’s not going to get the respect it deserves. Though it won’t be covered here, be sure to tune up your resume or your curriculum vitae (CV) alongside your cover letter.

Start by following a simple layout. In the top-center of the letter, have a letterhead bearing your name in a bold, large font. On a single line below your name, type out your address, your phone number, and your email address. (If you don’t have a letterhead, you may place your name, address, phone number and email in a heading in the top-left corner.)

Next, place the company heading as close to the top-left corner as possible. It should have the recipient’s name, his or her job title, the company name, and the full address of the company. In the top right-hand corner of your letter, you should spell out the date like this: June 1st, 2014. (You may also place the date directly above the company heading.)

The salutation should be placed a couple of lines down from that. It is acceptable to have a subject line underneath the salutation, for example: RE: C++ Programmer, Job ID: EG3-1228965.

The body of your letter should have EXACTLY three paragraphs: an introduction, a middle and a conclusion. These paragraphs ought to be brief, three to five sentences each. Be sure to use the correct terminology and active language. And, most importantly, omit needless words.

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The final statement is your farewell, also known as a valediction. This, too, should be brief and genuine. A few spaces down from the valediction, place your first and last name.

Remember, your cover letter should only be a single page. For a few examples of the overall layout of a cover letter, try using a search engine to view examples. Search images for: cover letter examples.

2. The Salutation

When you send out a cover letter, address the exact person who will receive it. You will have to research who this person is, of course. There are many ways to go about doing this, and I recommend you check the official company website first. From time to time, you will find a company directory, so check the Human Resources (HR) department to find out who handles hiring new employees. If you can’t find the hiring manager in this way, try looking up profiles on LinkedIn that meet the criteria. If you find someone who claims to be in charge of new hires for the company in your region, copy down his or her name for your cover letter. You may also try calling the company directly in order to learn the hiring manager’s name.

If you can’t find the name of the person to send your letter to, that is okay. The most accepted way to address a cover letter nowadays is “Dear Hiring Manager,” or “To the Hiring Committee:” followed by a comma or a colon. Some job hunters prefer to address their letters with “Dear Sir or Madam,” instead, but I do not recommend this salutation. DO NOT open by stating “To whom it may concern.” HR employees often remove these cover letters from the mix due to the broadness of the salutation – and it actually makes you sound unconcerned.

Form your salutation in the simplest way – address your reader properly – it’s as easy as that.

3. The Introduction

To stand out, you’ve got to have a killer first sentence. Picture the hiring manager a moment: he or she has to read a number of cover letters every day. All of the letters read follow a format to be sure, but he or she is tired of reading the same old stuff. That’s why you’ve got to WOW them.

Open your letter with the truth, plain and simple: “I have several years’ experience in the restaurant industry, and I hope you will consider me for the position of Kitchen Manager.” Or perhaps you’d prefer a slightly-augmented example: “Capitalizing on my accomplishments in web-based SEO analysis, I would like to express my interest in serving your online community as a Social Media Marketer.” Whatever the case, it is important that you are clear and concise. You ought to mention how you found out the company is hiring as well. If you were referred by someone within the company, it behooves you to mention his or her name and position in the first sentence.

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The opening paragraph is designed to show why you are a good match for the company. Mention two or three exacting qualifications you have that suits the position, drawing upon the skills your resume entails. (Take note of these qualifications as you write, since you will amplify their specificity to the position in question in the paragraphs to come.) Whatever you decide to include, DO NOT simply parrot what is contained in your resume/CV! Your cover letter is meant to reveal the strengths within your skill set, so showcase your abilities accordingly.

4. The Middle

In the second paragraph of your killer cover letter you must give concrete examples of your qualifications. The company you would like to work for has an exact need that they want to fill – be sure to target that need! Outline a few specific activities you have performed in your career that best pairs you for the position.

Here is where your storytelling skills will come in handy. Describe scenarios in which you succeeded in overcoming some obstacles in a recent job. Each instance should show how you met the need that the company is looking for. If the position calls for troubleshooting skills and phone etiquette, then describe how you handled that difficult tech support call and turned the customer around. If your prospective employer wants someone to fill a sales position, don’t be afraid to show exactly how many contracts you secured for your corporation. These instances should come out of the experience delineated in your resume: make them colorful, concise and effective. Some examples:

“Recently, I was Vice President of Sales and Marketing for ABC Bank. Our account acquisition was in a slump, even though we had offered $150 for each customer who referred a new account. The bank manager had set a challenging goal for the third quarter – one hundred new accounts. Since we live in a small town, I decided to capitalize on a grass roots effort to get the word out. I posted flyers at the local college campus, supermarkets and mini-malls, and I even executed a social media campaign on behalf of the ABC branch. I managed to get 30 new accounts in the first month, and my own sales portfolio included over 100 accounts by the end of the quarter.”

“In 2013, I was Project Manager for TechGuru’s recent app, JoyfulNoise. There were a few hurdles to overcome: the interface needed to be tighter, there were a few bugs, and there were similar products on the market. As the lead, I decided to improve the user interface myself, thereby freeing up my team to work out the software issues. Finally, we added a new feature to the product which allowed users to share their ringtones with others on the platform. Since the time of its launch in December of 2013, JoyfulNoise has had an uptick in sales every single month.”

The story should have new information about your skills and abilities, within the framework of your resume. I repeat, do not just copy-and-paste the details of your resume into your cover letter. Beware: It will make your effort to WOW the hiring manager fall flat, forcing her to put your resume at the bottom of the pile.

A final note on bullets: it is en vogue nowadays to include bullet points in the middle paragraph of your cover letter. Using bullet points is a simple way to get the attention of the reader, but it can also distract from a well-thought out narrative.

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–          Bullet points can give quick detail

–          They effectively draw immediate focus

–          But they will also detract from everything else you wrote!

These are very easy ways to make things “pop” in your cover letter. If this is a very important position for you, take the time to follow the classic format of the cover letter. Besides, would you want the hiring manager to have to look at the same old bullet points she sees in every single cover letter? No! You want your letter to stand out. Therefore, nix the bullets.

 

5. The Conclusion

Your conclusion should be the shortest of your paragraphs. There are three aspects of a final paragraph: an invitation to look at the resume, an interest in an interview, and gratitude for the opportunity. First, you must direct the hiring manager to examine your resume. If this is a digital cover letter, say something like: “Please consider my attached resume for the position.” If this is a physical letter, then refer to the resume as “enclosed.” Also, if you are applying online, it is good to place any hyperlinks to pertinent web pages in this final paragraph, as in: “Please visit my LinkedIn page.” Where possible, incorporate the link into the text (as in the underlined portion), and avoid using cumbersome web addresses.

Second, express your interest in meeting the hiring manager. Now this could mean a face-to-face interview. On the other hand, many hiring departments choose to interview over the phone or over the internet using Skype. For this reason, keep the method of the interview ambiguous: “Looking forward to speaking with you further,” or “I would like to arrange an interview to discuss my qualifications and to learn more about the organization.”

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It is also acceptable in this paragraph to mention you are available immediately, and your salary is negotiable. While these are not requirements for the cover letter, certain positions are highly desirable and you may want to express your eagerness in this manner.

Most importantly, thank the hiring manager for her time. Just think of how many of these letters she has to read! If you show your gratitude in a genuine fashion, as well as your interest in the opportunity, she will be more apt to consider you for the position. Don’t just assume your abilities can speak for themselves: a little bit of kindness and deference can go a long way.

 

6. The Valediction

The closing remark in your killer cover letter should be short and sweet, not long and saccharine. The two most acceptable valedictions: “Sincerely,” and “Best regards,” to be exact (though many writers shorten the latter to simply, “Best,”). Sometimes I prefer to say “Cordially,” but that is just to shake things up. (Note: if you are writing to an employer in the UK, “Faithfully,” is the most effective valediction.)

 

7. The Final Draft

Edit your cover letter. Read it, re-read it, and then give it to someone else to read. Spell-check will overlook many grammatical errors, so you must be diligent. Try reading it backwards, sentence by sentence. Be sure to check that the content is sound, and you have told a good overall story. Verify spellings of names and addresses, ensuring every detail is correct. Finally, if you’re furnishing a physical copy for your employer, be sure to print it on decent paper.

An excellent cover letter requires you pay great attention to detail, and that you put yourself in the shoes of the HR department. It is more-than-okay to showcase your talents and to entertain (a little bit). Be empathetic, and imagine what you would want to read. Most of all, recognize that you are the best person for the position, and reveal your wondrous story – you’re bound to land that job with your killer cover letter!

Featured photo credit: Ninja The Last Thing You See/Joey Gannon via upload.wikimedia.org

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Published on March 20, 2019

How to Write a Powerful Mission Statement for Your Business

How to Write a Powerful Mission Statement for Your Business

Have you ever felt lost in the minutia of your job?

As a business owner, I can relate to getting bogged down in the day to day operations of my business. Things like inventory, payroll, scheduling, purchasing and employee management take up the bulk of my day.

While these things are important and need to get done, focusing too much on the details can make you lose sight of the big picture. This is why having a good mission statement comes in handy.

What is a Mission Statement?

Put simply, a mission statement is an internal document that provides a clear purpose for the organization. It provides a common reference point for everyone in the organization to start from.

In other words, after reading your company’s mission statement, managers and employees should be able to answer the question “What are company’s main objectives?” For example, Southwest Airlines mission statement reads:[1]

“Southwest Airlines is dedication to the highest quality of Customer Service delivered with a sense of warmth, friendliness, individual pride, and Company Spirit. We are committed to provide our Employees a stable work environment with equal opportunity for learning and personal growth.”

In this single statement, Southwest conveys the company’s goals of providing the highest level of customer service as well as providing a good working environment for their employees.

Mission Statement VS. Vision Statement

While the mission and vision statements are related, there are subtle but distinct differences the you should be aware of.

First of all, a mission statement is designed primarily as an internal company document. It provides clarity and direction for managers and employees.

While there’s nothing wrong with sharing your company’s mission statement with the outside world, its intended audience is within the company.

While a mission statement provides a general framework for the organization, the vision statement is usually a more inspirational statement designed to motivate employees and inspire customers. Going back to Southwest Airlines, their vision statement reads:[2]

“To become the world’s most loved, most flown, and most profitable airline.”

This statement inspires good feeling from the customer while motivating the employees to achieve that vision.

What Does a Good Mission Statement Look Like?

When coming up with a mission statement, it’s important to take your time and do it right. Too often, people (especially entrepreneurs) just write down the first thing that comes to mind and they end up with worthless or (worse yet) a generic mission statement that is utterly useless.

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Remember, a mission statement should provide a common framework for everyone in your organization.

When writing a mission statement, you should always try to incorporate the following;

  • What we do?
  • How we do it?
  • Whom do we do it for?
  • What value are we bringing?

Now, you can see how tempting it is to just come up with something generic that ticks off those four boxes. Something like “We provide the best widgets available online for the consumer.”

After all, that did check off all the boxes:

What we do? Provide widgets.

How we do it? Online.

Who do we do it for? The consumer.

What value we bring? The best widgets.

The problem with this mission statement is that it could apply to any number of companies producing the same widget. There is nothing to distinguish your company or its widgets from any of your competitors widgets.

Compare that mission statement to this one:

“We provide the highest quality widgets directly to the consumer at an affordable price backed up with a 100% satisfaction guarantee. If our clients aren’t 100% satisfied, we’ll make it right.”

What’s the difference?

Both mission statements answer all the same questions of what, how, whom and value. But in the second statement, they are differentiating their company from all other competitors by answering the question “what makes us unique”.

Another way to read that is, “Why you should buy from us.” In this example, it’s because our widgets are of the highest quality and we stand behind them 100%.

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You might have noticed the statement didn’t say that we sell widgets at the lowest possible price. That’s because we are emphasizing quality and satisfaction over price.

A different company’s mission statement may emphasize selling widgets at the lowest possible price with little to no mention of a guarantee.

Hallmarks of a Good Mission Statement

1. Keep It Brief

Your mission statement should be no longer than three sentences. This is not your company’s magnum opus.

You should be able to distill the what, how, who and why questions into a succinct message.

2. Have a Purpose

A company’s missions statement should include the reason it even exists.

Make clear exactly what the company does with statements like “We strive to provide our customers with …….”

3. Include a “How”

Take this as an opportunity to differentiate your company from its competitors.

How do you provide a product or service that’s different or better than how your competitor provides it?

4. Talk About the Value You Bring to the Table

This is where you can really set yourself apart from the competition. This is the “why” customers should buy from you.

Do you offer the lowest prices? Fastest delivery? Exceptional customer service? Whatever it is that sets you apart and gives your particular products, services or company an advantage talk about it in the mission statement.

5. Make Sure It’s Plausible

It’s okay to shoot for the stars just to settle for the moon, but not in a mission statement.

Being overly ambitious will only set you and your employees up for failure, hurt morale and make you lose credibility. You will also scare away potential investors if they think that you are not being realistic in your mission statement.

6. Make It Unique and Distinctive

Imagine if someone who knew nothing about your business walked in and saw how it was operating, then they read your mission statement. Would they be able to recognize that mission statement was attached to that business? If not re-work it.

7. Think Long Term

A mission statement should be narrow enough so that it provides a common framework for the existing business, but open enough to allow for longer term goals. It should be able to grow as the business grows.

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8. Get Feedback

This is very important, especially from managers and employees.

Getting their input can clarify how they currently see the company and their role within the organization. It’s also a good way to get people “on-board,” as studies show that people are more likely to go along with an idea if they feel included in the decision making process beforehand.

9. Review Often and Revise as Necessary

You should review the missions statement often for two reasons.

First, as a reminder of what the essence of the company is. It’s easy to forget when you are in the day to day grind of the business.

And two, to make sure that the mission statement is still relevant. Things change, and not everything can be anticipated at the time a mission statement was written.

For example, if a mission statement was written before the advent of the internet, a company that use to sell things door to door now probably has a website that people order from. You should always update the mission statement to reflect these changes.

The Value of Mission Statements: Why Go Through All of These in the First Place?

It may seem like a lot of work just for a few sentences that describe a company, but the value of a well written mission statement should not be discounted.

First of all, if you are an entrepreneur, crystallizing the what, how, whom and value questions will keep you focused on the core business and its values.

If you are a manager or other employee, knowing the company’s basic tenants will help inform your interactions with both customers and colleagues alike.

Strategic Planning

A relevant mission statement acts as a framework for strategic planning. It provides guidance and parameters for making strategic decisions for the future of the company.

Measuring Performance

By having the company’s mission in a concrete form, it also allows for an objective measurement of how well the organization is meeting its stated goals at any one time.

Management can identify strengths and weaknesses in the organization based on the criteria set forth in the mission statement and make decisions accordingly.

Solidifying the Company’s Goals and Values for Employees

Part of a well run organization is nurturing happy and productive employees.

As humans, we all have an innate need for both purpose and to be part of something larger than ourselves. Providing employees with a clearly defined mission statement helps to define their role in the larger organization. Thus, fulfilling both of these needs.

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Now I’m not saying that a mission statement can overcome low pay and poor working conditions, but with everything else being equal, it can contribute to a happier and more productive workforce.

To Hold Management Accountable

By creating a mission statement, a company is publicly stating its highest values and goals for the world to see. By doing so, you are inviting both the public and your employees to to scrutinize how well the company lives up to its ideals.

So if you state that you only provide the highest quality products, and then offer something less, it’s fair for both the public and the employees to question, and even call for a change in management.

If management doesn’t take the mission statement seriously, no one else will either; and the legitimate authority that management rely’s on will be diminished.

To Serve as an Example

This is the opposite side of the coin from the previous statement. If the highest levels of management are seen taking the mission statement seriously and actively managing within the framework of the statement, that attitude filters down throughout the organization.

After all, a good employee knows what’s important to their boss and will take the steps necessary to curry favor with them.

Finally, use the company’s mission statement as a way to define roles within the company. You can do this by giving each division in the company a copy of the mission statement and challenge the head of each division to create a mission statement for their respective departments.

Their individual mission statements should focus on how each department fits in and ultimately contributes to the success of the company’s overall mission statement. This serves as both a clarifying and a team building exercise for all parts of the organization.

Final Thoughts

Developing a mission statement is too often just an after-thought, especially for entrepreneurs. We tend to prioritize things that we perceive will give us the biggest “bang for our buck.”

Somehow, taking the time and effort to sit down and think seriously about the what, whom, how and value of our business seems like a waste of time. After all, we got in the business to make money and become successful, isn’t that all we need to know?

That mindset will probably get you started okay, but if you find yourself having any success at all, you’ll find that there really is such a thing as growing pains.

By putting in the time and effort to create a mission statement, you are laying the groundwork that will give you a path to follow in your growth. And isn’t building long term success what we are really after?

More Resources About Achieving Business Success

Featured photo credit: Fab Lentz via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Southwest Airlines: About Page
[2] Fit Small Business: 10 Vision Statement Examples To Spark Your Imagination

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