Updated: Sep 5
Resumes get all the attention during the job hunt while cover letters have become the stepchild no one cares for or talks about. However, this oversight can be a costly mistake because an amazing cover letter can make all the difference for a candidate.
A recent survey found that 83% of recruiters/decision-makers say that a great cover letter can land you an interview, especially when your resume is not so great.
But how do you write a worthy cover letter? This five-point guide below will help you write a letter that's worthy of the readers' time.
Ideally, you should address it to someone: "Dear Michelle", "Dear Michael, etc.
So, try your best to find out who'll be reading the letter. Who's the manager on the team you're joining? If you're a super-networker, you might be able to connect with employees who are already on the team, and find out who receives the resume from the recruiter.
If you can't find out who, try to identify the recruiter and address it to him or her. For example, LinkedIn sometimes shows you who posted the job.
At worst, just use "Dear Hiring Manager". I'm not a fan of "To Whom It May Concern", I think it's impersonal. However, it is absolutely better than "Dear Sir or Madam". The latter is antiquated. Which woman in 2020 wants to be called "Madam"? 🤷♂️
Hook 'em in the first paragraph
In the same way that novelists and video creators need to hook the viewer in seconds, you need to captivate the decision-maker with your words.
"I am applying to XYZ job", goes against all the creative/attention-grabbing rules. Even as you scroll through your social media feeds today, unless content grabs your attention in seconds, you toss it and keep scrolling.
Cover letters are not governed by a different set of rules. People do not, all of a sudden, have more patience once they open your letter. I would argue they have even less patience with Cover Letters because of prior experience of people writing boring letters.
The reader knows what job you're applying for, they posted the darn job. So, why repeat that? Why waste your opportunity to impress with boring repetition?
Do this instead: find an interesting angle that connects you to the company. It could be something about the product that you like, a funny story, a social movement the company is involved in. Basically, anything that shows that the company is somewhat special to you. Start of the paragraph with that story and finish off with something about how "delighted you were to come across the position", considering your special connection with them.
New and useful information
Don't regurgitate your resume.
In other words, don't write what I call a "Nothing Letter". A "Nothing Letter" doesn't hook the reader in the first paragraph. Then, it goes on to repeat the same information on your resume while decorating the sentences with buzzwords. If you're going to write a Nothing Letter, don't bother writing any at all.
It should contain information that supplements your resume, highlights core competency or explains something on the resume.
If your resume is lacking experience or an important skill, explain how you've made up for it.
Less is more
Your letter should be one page and no more. It should be 3-5 paragraphs. It should be short and sweet - no one wants to read an essay. Rewrite sentences until you find the shortest possible way to get your point across.
The goal of the letter is to impress enough to get an interview. You don't need to tell the whole story in the letter, just a summary of the best ones.
People don't like to read anymore, thus if you write a novel, it won't get read.
Don't let "your" instead of "you're" be the reason you don't get a callback.
Read your letter multiple times. A good way to catch errors is by reading it from the bottom and then work your way up. Also, consider getting another pair of eyes on your letter for increased accuracy.
Download the Shrewd Cover Letter Template here. For a limited time only, get it for a discounted price of $29, down from the original $99 price. It contains a paragraph by paragraph guide with examples of what a great cover letter looks like. Plus four Original Cover Letters, personally written by me, for clients who got jobs at Amazon, Google, and Mercedes-Benz.