Inside: How to write a cover letter for a job application that will make you stand out. (Hint – It’s not about you!) Download a free template.
I’ve reviewed many cover letters for job applications in my day, both as a hiring manager and as a career coach. And nerd alert, I LOVE them. I’m always actively rooting for the cover letter to just knock it out of the park and pull me right into the narrative.
Tell me your story. Please!
However, when a cover letter misses some of the key points for success, it can land in HR’s digital recycling bin. Even if the applicant has some killer skills.
But it’s actually pretty easy to avoid some common cover letter pitfalls, with a little help from a career coach, a mom, and her preschooler.
Why Cover Letters are Important
Before we get to the cover letter tips, it’s important to understand why cover letters are important.
Some recruiters and hiring managers have moved away from the cover letter requirement as part of a job application and will instead rely on the resume or online form. However, for many employers cover letters are important and incredibly valuable.
A resume shows your experience, but a cover letter highlights your interest in this specific position as opposed to the hundreds of others you could consider. Think of it this way, your resume is the “what” and your cover letter is the “why.”
Second, your cover letter displays your communication style. Writing skills are important in many different roles and industries and your cover letter gives you the chance to show how you can communicate your message clearly.
Most importantly, the cover letter shows the value you will bring to the organization. Sure, the hiring manager cares that you want to work for this company, and they want to know what skills you have, but specifically, they want to know how you could solve their problem.
So a good cover letter isn’t all about you – it’s about You (the company), Me (your skills), and Us (how you could help a company succeed.)
Ready for an example?
A Kid Walks Into Your Office
Let’s pretend your three-year-old child was applying for the coveted job of “help mom at the grocery store by pushing a kid-size grocery cart.” Like one of these:
As the employer in this situation, you have a set of goals. You need this grocery shopping job done, you need it done efficiently, and you need it done with minimal chasing children through the wine department praying HARD that your children have inherited their father’s dexterity and not your own. For example.
In this scenario, your kid is also a computer prodigy and can type a cover letter for his job application to apply for the role. Here’s his first pass:
Cover Letter for Job Application: #1
Mommmmmmmmy, Mommmy, Mommmy, MOM,
I wanna push one of those little grocery carts because it would be so fun for ME! I would have the freedom that sitting in the big cart just does not afford and this would make me happy. Or I want 11 lollipops instead. Please. PLEASEEEEEEEEE. I REALLY want this job.
3 Year Old
Things accomplished by this cover letter:
- The employer was annoyed right off the bat by the casual tone of the request. Also, the employer isn’t exactly psyched about the grammar.
- The employer learned how much this job would benefit the applicant.
- The employer learned nothing about how giving this job to the applicant would serve the organization.
Or maybe hired, depending on how tired the employer is and how much he or she really just needs to get a gallon of milk and get the hell out of there. But the applicant has been hired begrudgingly.
Cover Letter for Job Application: # 2
Let’s have the 3-year-old try rewriting his cover letter for this job application.
Dear Ms. Mommy,
The Team Family organization has done excellent work in the areas of staff development, budgeting, and meal planning. I am particularly impressed by the level of care you give each employee, and how opportunities for growth benefit both the individual and the team.
I am excited about the prospect of contributing to your organization in the position of small grocery cart driver. Given my previous experience in being a big helper, I know I could add value to your team. I have the proven ability to select the perfect bag of baby carrots, find the exact number of yogurts you are looking for, and pick boxes that are very low to the ground. Furthermore, I am a good listener with excellent driving skills which will help the Team Family organization achieve its goals.
I look forward to speaking with you about this position further. Thank you for your consideration.
3 Year Old
Things accomplished by this cover letter:
- The hiring manager appreciates the level of respect given by the applicant.
- The employer learned why the applicant was excited about this role specifically.
- The reader learned how the applicant could add immediate value to the organization. The connection between the applicant’s skills and the employer’s needs was made super clear.
Or at least called for a first-round phone interview. Let’s not get hasty.
1. Cover letters for job applications aren’t about you.
While your cover letter is about you in part, it’s not really about what you want. Instead, it should be about what the employer needs.
Put yourself in their shoes as you are writing and try to understand what they are looking for in this role.
2. Show excitement and interest
Let the company know why you are interested in this organization and the specific position.
Applicants are much more believable in their cover letters when they site specific examples of why they want to work at an organization and why the role is a good fit.
3. Tie in relevant skills.
You want the role – the employer gets that. But why should they hire you out of many other applicants? What sets you apart? What examples can you share that would make the employer say “Ooo, they totally get what I need!”
I know that you’re awesome – make sure they do too by thinking about the top skills required by the job description and how your experience lines up.
4. When in doubt – go formal.
Find the hiring manager’s name by searching the company website or on LinkedIn and refer to them by their formal name whenever possible.
I’m thinking about having my kids call me Ms. Mommy now as a sign of respect. Really rolls off the tongue.