You’ve a lot of great job and interview tips on here, but do you have any advice on how to write a great cover letter (without sounding desperate or using too many adjectives)?
We’ve talked about what to wear to interviews, interview thank you notes, and given our best interview advice, but Reader M is right: we’ve never talked about cover letters. Personally, I hate them — you have to spend an agonizing amount of time customizing them and proofreading them, yet I’ve often felt like a better job tool is going onto the street and shouting, “Hey, anyone have a __ position that needs to be filled?” I particularly hate them when responding to a job posting online — from everything I’ve read the odds are good that a) the listing is a mere formality because of company operating procedure, and the job has already been filled, or b) even if the job is actually open, a robot or intern will more likely be making a first pass at your cover letter and resume. And yet: a poorly written cover letter can do you in, so they’re unfortunately a necessity.
I have a few tips for cover letters, but I’m curious to see what readers say — particularly those who’ve read a lot of them. A few of my best tips, though:
- Know someone. Don’t be afraid to drop names in your cover letter, and if you know someone working at the company itself you may want to send your cover letter through two channels: both through the official channel ([email protected] for example) as well as to the specific person you know, who may be able to walk your resume up to HR. (See our prior discussion on the pros and cons of recommending friends so you know what to expect.)
- Keep your content tight. You need to stay laser-focused on your skills that fit this job. Reword, supplement, and give context to your resume so you’re not just repeating it (and, if you haven’t customized your resume for the job listing, your cover letter should make clear how your background benefits the job).
- Focus on what YOU bring to the job — not what you’ll get out of the job. It may be educational and a great way for you to expand your skillset, say, but those aren’t selling points for the person hiring you.
- Think in keywords if you’re responding to an online job posting — mirror the language from the job posting to get past the robots.
- PROOFREAD. Errors of any kind are not allowed.
I was excited to see Ask a Manager recommending against closing cover letters with the promise/threat to follow up in a few days — it always has felt forced and unnatural every time I’ve done it, at least for a straight job application, but everything depends on the job and the circumstances.
Readers, what are your best tips for cover letters? For those of you who read cover letters, what kind of cover letters MAKE the job application? Does anyone care to share any amusing stories of cover letters that failed?