Recently, we discovered that the cover letter is just about dead. It’s not completely obsolete yet, but we learned from recruiters that they spend precious little time reviewing job candidates’ materials—and according to a recent survey, only 18% of hiring managers consider the cover letter important.
Even so, many jobs still ask you to file a letter along with your other application materials. And even if it’s optional, you might take the opportunity if they’ve asked. “The cover letter provides you the opportunity to connect the dots for the human resources staff,” says Vickie Seitner, executive business coach and founder of Career Edge One in Omaha, Nebraska.
So if you’re going to submit one, first, make sure each letter is tailored to the job you’re applying for and references the position. Second, make sure each cover letter you write includes these three elements.
Proof that you’ve done your homework
Recruiters and hiring managers want to see that you know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s important in the early sections of your cover letter that you refer to the job, its title and the company in some form.
And don’t be afraid to do a little flattering. Impress your potential future boss with an acknowledgement of a major company success. Bonus points if that success relates to the team you’d be joining.
Management expert Alison Green, in a 2007 post on her Ask A Manager blog, gives an example of how you’d sneak this info into your cover letter narrative. This is an excerpt from her sample cover letter, which would be included as part of an application for a magazine staff writer job.
I’m impressed by the way you make environmental issues accessible to non-environmentalists (particularly in the pages of Sierra Magazine, which has sucked me in more times than I can count), and I would love the opportunity to be part of your work.
The writing is informal, flattering and shows the job applicant knows the ropes.
An explanation of how your skills relate
Your cover letter is also the written explanation of your resume as it relates to the job at hand. So it’s important you explain in the letter what exactly it is you can do for this company and this role based on your previous experience.
Here’s one revolutionary approach that accomplishes this without boring the reader to death. Darrell Gurney, career coach and author of Never Apply for a Job Again: Break the Rules, Cut the Line, Beat the Rest, asks the job candidate to write what he calls a “T-Letter.”
This is a letter with a two-sentence intro followed by two columns: One on the left headed, “Your Requirements” and one on the right headed, “My Qualifications.” Bye-bye big, boring blocks of text.
Using the job description, pull out sentences that express what they are looking for and place those in the “Your Requirements” column. Then add a sentence for each to the “My Qualifications” column that explains how your skills match those.
It’s an aggressive, bold approach. But one that could set you apart from the rest.
“You have a short-and-sweet, self-analyzed litmus test that they will read,” Gurney says. “It is pointed and has them, at minimum, think that this person has at least looked to see a congruent fit.”
Of course, you can also do this in a more traditional way—simply stating how your skills connect to the job at hand.
Your excitement about the position
Here’s an exercise: Think about yourself in the job you’re applying for. What do you feel? You’re probably pretty pumped, huh.
Now harness some of that excitement and put it down on paper.
For example, if you were applying to a web design or UX job, you could write, “For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in how the digital world works and how users interact with websites. Website design is not only my career, it’s my passion, which is why I hope you’ll consider me for this great role on your team.”
This has feeling and emotion; a far cry from the dry form letter you thought you had to write.
As we said, HR staff and hiring managers have limited time and a lot of resumes to sort through. Don’t put them to sleep. Create something they’ll remember you by. It just might be the difference between your application ending up in the trash or the inbox of the boss.
(This article first appeared on Monster and was written by Caroline Zaayer Kaufman)