The economy is heating up. Recently, over 80% of companies surveyed by careers site monster.com said they planned to hire in 2021. That’s welcome news for jobseekers still suffering from last year’s COVID-19–created economic disruption. It doesn’t mean getting work will be easy, however. There are millions more people seeking employment than there were in the beginning of 2020. Which means the tools in your job search arsenal need to be honed and ready for use. Your resume must be polished. Your interview skills must be practiced. Even the often neglected cover letter must be its best.
I know lots of studies show most hiring managers don’t even look at them. Perhaps the one conducted last year by ResumeGo is an outlier. Still, the fact that not only did over 80% of the recruiters and hiring managers they surveyed claimed to read cover letters, around the same percentage valued tailored correspondence while 76% percent “regularly reject applicants and skip going through their entire application solely because of a poorly written cover letter?” What’s more, their research showed that applicants who included a tailored cover letter landed 50% more interviews than those who didn’t. I don’t think results like this can be ignored. Plus, if you’ve contributed to your field it’s an opportunity to showcase your talents in ways your resume just can’t. So here’s how to write a cover letter with experience.
Research the Company
Before you type a single word, you need to investigate where you hope to work. Do a deep dive into their history and the challenges they are facing. Explore the department where you want to be hired and double check any potential networking opportunities. No one likes spam emails. Hiring managers view generic cover letters with similar disdain. Your goal is to craft a personal, engaging document that speaks to their specific needs. Which means you also should jettison any “Dear Sir or Madam” type greetings. Instead, linger on LinkedIn or similar sites so you can get not only a specific name but other helpful deets about the person you hope to interview with. Once you have the information, it’s time to start writing.
Cover letters have a standard format. Deviating from it won’t make you look creative, it will make you look uniformed –– and that’s not a good look on a jobseeker. There are plenty of helpful examples online. In essence, a cover letter should be left aligned, in 10 or 12 point standard font (like Ariel or Times Roman), and single-spaced with three block paragraphs (with a space between each). At the very top is your header, followed by your greeting, then an opening, middle, and closing paragraph. Your closing should be professional.
You want the header to have your contact info –– your email and phone number, not your address (that’s what resumes are for). Hopefully you are no longer using the firstname.lastname@example.org you created in middle school. If you don’t have a professional, forward-facing email addy now’s the time to make one.
Avoid the Generic Opening
If you enjoy reading novels, you know how important the opening line is. Cover letters aren’t any different. After your heading and personal salutation, you want to grab the hiring manager’s attention. Describing yourself as a “hardworking team player who grew up in Boise” isn’t going to do it. Instead, you need to deploy the research you’ve done on the company and combine it with the gifts you’ve outlined on your resume. For example, “I know your agency is leveraging newer platforms in its social media campaigns. As head copywriter at Ex Tech, I oversaw their shift into younger-skewing digital content while creating advertising for ABC and XYZ corp.” That’s how a cover letter with experience differs from any generic attachment accompanying your resume.
Don’t Plagiarize Your Resume
Seriously, they have your resume. They don’t want to re-read it in a cover letter. Instead, highlight a singular accomplishment and expand on how exactly you “increased third quarter sales by 23% YOY.” Incorporate your experience and challenges you overcame. You could also include a personal anecdote –– how learning the cello prepared you for later obstacles –– but above all keep it brief. In total (including header) your cover letter shouldn’t exceed 450 words.
Do not use the cover letter as a forum to address your recent lay off or why you moved to San Francisco to chase a boy. You’re not writing a journal. Don’t be overly complimentary about the company either –– chances are they’ve heard it all before. Unless you can cite a specific example, use your letter to tell them how you’ll help the company, not why you love it.
Since you’re writing a cover letter with experience, your next to last line should reiterate your background and the position you’re seeking. Then politely ask for an opportunity to interview, choose a professional closing like ‘Kind regards” or “Best” followed by your full name. You can also include a link to your website or social media if it’s relevant to the position. That’s it. Now you’re ready to start submitting. Bonne chance!
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