Cover Letter Hacks
Cover letters are a polarizing issue among hiring managers: some insist on them, some think they're pointless. It seems that the tide is ebbing toward cover letters becoming a thing of the past; however, there are still some job listings that require them, so it's good to have one ready to go just in case. If you feel overwhelmed at the idea of writing a cover letter, fear not! Your friendly neighborhood resume writer is here with some tips to get you started.
Personalize your greeting.
Don't offend the hiring manager.
First things first: find out the hiring manager's name and preferred pronouns, if possible. If you're lucky, their name will be on the job listing, but if it's not, you'll have to do some research. Check out the company's website and LinkedIn to find out who's in charge of hiring, recruiting, or human resources for the department in which you want to work. For example, if you're applying to a job in IT, you might address your cover letter to the "IT recruiting manager."
Thankfully, a lot of people are putting their preferred pronouns on their LinkedIn profiles these days, so they should be easy to find. If their preferred pronouns are "they/them," or you can't find their preferred pronouns, address them by their first name, e.g. "Dear Francis." It may seem informal, but today many people actually prefer it to an honorarium. When I was querying literary agents for my novel, I came across a Twitter thread where an agent advised writers to address agents by their first names in query letters. Several other agents commented in agreement. As querying agents is very similar to applying for jobs, I imagine hiring managers have similar feelings on the subject.
If you can't find the hiring manager's name, DON'T address them as "Dear Sir or Madam" (for obvious reasons) or "To Whom It May Concern." Nobody likes that. Either leave off the greeting or say something like, "Dear Hiring Manager" or "Attn: Human Resources Director."
Don't copy what's on your resume.
Don't beat a dead horse.
Copying the contents of your resume to your cover letter is a big no-no for a couple of reasons: 1. you're already sending your resume, so you don't want to copy the same information; and 2. resumes are written in an impersonal, third person style, whereas cover letters should be written in the first person (more on that in the next tip).
Tell a story.
Write like you're having a conversation.
In addition to writing resumes and technical documentation, I also write fiction, so I like to think of a cover letter as a short story about your career. Write it as if you're having a conversation with a friend and telling them a story.
For example: instead of, "Consistently exceeded sales goals by up to 30%," you could say, "As sales manager at ABC company, I consistently exceeded my annual sales goals by as much as 30%." Instead of, "Receive high customer satisfaction scores," you would say, "I regularly earn high scores on customer satisfaction surveys."
Your cover letter is also a good place to go into more detail about your experience and accomplishments and include specifics that aren't on your resume. For example, say the reason you exceeded your annual sales goals was because you developed a new training program for sales reps. In your cover letter, you could go into detail about the training program: "I developed a new training program for sales representatives that emphasized active listening, call control, and finding the customer's 'why.' As a result, my team's monthly sales increased by an average of $10,000, and we exceeded our annual sales quota by 30%."
Kiss up to the company.
Flattery will get you everywhere.
Believe me, I know what it's like to be on the job market and "spray and pray," applying to every job listing you can find. I once applied to over 300 jobs before getting hired. True story. So I know you're not out here looking to apply to a specific company, but for your cover letter, pretend you are. Pretend you specifically sought out this company and applied to their job listing because it's the only place you want to work. Flatter them. Kiss their butts. Make them feel like the prettiest girl at the ball. Trust me, they want you to.
One thing you may or may not know about me is that I'm obsessed with classic sitcoms, so when I think of kissing up, I think of Artie from The Larry Sanders Show. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend checking it out. It's streaming on HBO Max. Anyway, Artie would always flatter people to get Larry what he wanted. For example, when Larry didn't want to do a stunt where a spider handler made two tarantulas crawl up his arms, Artie talked Hank into doing it instead by telling him Larry personally wanted him to do it so he can show more of his versatility. You see, Artie knew Hank wanted to do more on the show, and he used that to flatter him and get him to do a potentially dangerous stunt.
When you're writing your cover letter, think like Artie. Check out the company's website, blog, press releases, or what their employees are posting on LinkedIn or Indeed. Find one or two things that appeal to you and mention them in your letter as reason(s) you're applying there. For example, maybe the company has been recognized for having a low carbon footprint and using sustainable materials, or maybe they regularly donate to a certain charity. Maybe they're a woman- or minority-owned business. Maybe they have a remote-first culture. Pick something they're probably proud of and use it to kiss their butt like Artie would.
Don't curb your enthusiasm.
Be a big phony.
Expanding on the butt-kissing tip, make sure you show enthusiasm about the job and the company. My family once auditioned for Family Feud. No, I'm not kidding. My sister was obsessed with getting on the show, so she dragged me, my dad, and our other three sisters to Atlantic City to audition. When we got there, we were handed a pamphlet explaining that the most important thing they were looking for was enthusiasm. It didn't matter if we had good answers to the survey questions (which was disappointing, considering my sister made us all practice on the Family Feud app for weeks leading up to the audition). All that mattered was that we acted excited. They wanted us to clap, cheer, hoot, and jump up and down. When one of us answered a question, they wanted the rest of us to shout, "Good answer!" even if it was not, in fact, a good answer.
Unfortunately, overt enthusiasm is not something that comes naturally to the Hellers, so we didn't get to be on the show. However, I learned a valuable tip for writing cover letters: pretend you're on Family Feud. Pretend the job for which you're applying is the most exciting thing in the world. Instead of clapping and jumping up and down (although doing that might help you get into the right mindset), talk about how excited you are about the possibility of working there. Say you can't wait to hear from them. Say you're thrilled to have the opportunity to apply. Be a big phony. I know it probably doesn't come naturally to you either, and it probably feels awkward or dishonest, but trust me, they want you to do it.
Focus on what you bring to the table.
What does the company want and why is it you?
To paraphrase former President John F. Kennedy: Ask not what the company can do for you; ask what you can do for the company. I know it's tempting to talk about what you're looking for in a job. You're applying to the job because it's what you want. But when you're writing your cover letter, you need to focus on what the company wants and why it's you.
Study the job listing and look for specific words or phrases that apply to you. For example, say the company is trying to transition to Agile development methodology, so one of their preferred qualifications is someone with experience in an Agile environment. If you've worked in an Agile environment, you can help them with their transition. Play it up. Focus on what you can do for them: "I have been working with Agile methodology for three years, and I recently earned a Scrum certification. I would be happy to assist with your transition to an Agile model."
Include a call to action in your closing.
Use this Jedi mind trick to get an interview.
You may have heard the term "call to action" or "CTA" used in reference to marketing copy. It's something that instructs the reader to do something, like buy a product, visit a web page, or make a donation. Marketers use this tactic inspire people to take action. It sounds like some kind of Jedi mind trick, but it really works, which is why your cover letter should have a CTA. It focuses your cover letter on your goal of scheduling an interview and inspires the hiring manager to take action.
Include your contact information as part of the CTA. You should already have it on your resume, but if it's part of your CTA, the hiring manager only has to read that to know what to do next. It saves time and makes things easier for them, and believe me, you want to make things as easy as possible for them. In the field of usability, there's a popular book called Don't Make Me Think, which explains why the best route to any goal is always the simplest one. Users don't want to have to think too hard to accomplish something, and neither do hiring managers.
Finally, be sure to thank them for their time and say you look forward to hearing from them. This is a further reminder that you expect them to take action and contact you to schedule an interview.
Here's an example closing with all the elements mentioned above:
I would love to speak with you to further discuss how my skills and experience will be an asset to ABC Company. Please review my attached resume and call me at 215-555-1234 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org so we can schedule a meeting.
Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to hearing from you.
Here are a few more tips to remember while writing your cover letter:
If the job listing requests a cover letter in a Word or PDF document (rather than in the body of an email), make sure you format your cover letter in the same style as your resume. Think of the style as your brand, and keep it consistent.
Unlike your resume (which can be two pages, depending on where you are in your career), keep your cover letter to one page or less. Hiring managers are busy people, and they don't want to scroll through a cover letter that's multiple pages long. Keep it as brief as possible while still hitting the points mentioned above. If necessary, adjust the margins to get it down to one page.
Mention where you saw the job listing or heard about the job. Companies pay for job listings, so they like to keep track of which ones are getting hits and which aren't. If they list a job on, say, Monster, and it doesn't get them any quality applicants, they don't want to keep wasting their money on it. It also helps if you were referred by someone who works there, so if you were, mention that person's name.
Sample Cover Letter
Here's a sample cover letter I wrote for a fictitious person to earn my CPRW certification. I've broken it down below to point out where I put all of the above tips into play.
I heard from Director James Little that there is currently an opening for associate director of Consumer Practice at RisePoint, and I would like to submit my resume for consideration.
This sentence states where the applicant, Julie Gomes, heard about the job opening and expresses enthusiasm about applying for the opportunity.
My combination of marketing analytics and leadership skills make me the perfect match for this opportunity. I have 14 years of experience in marketing research, planning, and leadership, including:
Developing promotional campaigns and marketing strategies
Marketing and data analysis
Supervising and mentoring marketing teams of up to 21
Managing budgets of up to $12 million
This paragraph shows the relevant skills and experience that Julie brings to the table.
As an associate at JonesFlores in Chicago, I was admitted to the prestigious Management Development Rotation Program (MDRP), where I was given the opportunity to develop my leadership style and critical thinking skills and learn Nielsen marketing analytics tools by contributing to major marketing campaigns. My team developed a detailed marketing plan proposal for a consumer packaged goods company’s line of lunch food for children, which included online and in-store advertising and sampling. Our plan earned us the JonesFlores Innovation Accomplishment Award.
This paragraph expands on some of Julie's experience in a conversational, story-style format. It mentions one of her accomplishments from her resume, but it goes into more detail about how it was accomplished.
When I joined Smith & Company Marketing (SCM) as a senior associate, my analytical work on ad placement and effectiveness earned me a promotion to team leader, where I led my team in developing a marketing strategy for Northern Dawn’s line of flavored coffees. My comprehensive campaign included sampling, media events, and a social media promotion that called for customers to post “swap and see” videos of family members unknowingly tasting Northern Dawn coffee. The campaign led to Northern Dawn capturing a 10% market share in key cities in the first year and signing a three-year exclusive deal with SCM. Eventually I was promoted to manager of the Consumer Clients department.
This paragraph continues the story, going into detail about how Julie earned two promotions, what was included in her big marketing campaign, and the results of the campaign.
Most recently, as part of SCM’s Social Media/Digital Strategies Steering Committee, I have been working with the Child Health Alliance, a non-profit organization dedicated to health and nutrition for children. I oversaw the re-launch of their re-designed, state-of-the art website and grew their following on Facebook, which has led to a 35% increase in corporate financial support from companies like Proctor & Gamble, Colgate Palmolive, and Mondoleze.
This paragraph concludes the story, bringing us to where Julie currently works. Here she mentions working with a non-profit organization, which is relevant to the next paragraph...
RisePoint’s variety of clients, from consumer packaged goods companies to luxury fashion brands, presents an interesting and exciting challenge that I would be thrilled to take on. What I find most exciting, however, is your policy of allowing employees to spend 15% of their time on cause marketing efforts. I am passionate about cause marketing and non-profit promotional advertising for important causes like social justice, women’s issues, and education, and my goal is to consistently dedicate a portion of my time to fundraising and community outreach for organizations with these missions.
In this paragraph, Julie begins by flattering the company and expressing enthusiasm about the prospect of working there. She goes on to discuss the company's policy of allowing employees to work on "cause marking" and non-profit accounts, which ties into the previous paragraph. She then expresses her passion for several causes, all of which the are mentioned on the company's website.
I would love to speak with you to further discuss how my skills and experience will be an asset to RisePoint’s Consumer Practice team. Please review my enclosed resume and call me at 347-981-4512 or email me at email@example.com so that we can schedule a time to talk.
Thank you very much for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you.
This closing probably looks familiar. It includes a CTA with Julie's contact information and thanks the hiring manager for his time. Julie's a shoe-in for this job!