Cover letters present job seekers with a few tricky paradoxes: It's necessary to include a cover letter when applying for a job, but most employers don't bother reading them. Employers may request them, require them, read them, ignore them, or place them directly into the recycle bin. Since you don't know what will happen to your application after it leaves your hands, it's smart not only to send a complete package (resume AND cover letter) but also to make your words as interesting as possible. Here are 10 ways to keep your letter from becoming a snoozefest.
- Start with a sentence about yourself. Consider any statement that begins with "From the moment I first saw …"; "Ever since I was a child I've always …"; or consider, "My family and friends all know I have a passion for …"
- Don't want to begin with a statement about yourself? Start with a sentence about the company. Try something like this: "My jaw dropped when I read your job post and saw that your company …"; "I've always been a huge fan of your products and I'd love to spend my days working for …"; or try, "Everyone knows that you're about to open an office in Indiana, but most don't know that you …"
- Start with a sentence about your competitors. Don't be negative, just compare yourself favorably to the others in the pool. For example: "You probably hear from plenty of applicants who love animals, but you don't hear from many who can …"; or consider, "I know you seek committed employees, but you won't find someone as committed as I am, and here's why …"
- Skip the clichés. If your sentence sounds like something from a corny commercial, reshape it until you've made it your own.
- Get to the point. After a strong introductory sentence, don't ramble; instead, cut to the chase.
- Explain why you should be hired. Of course you want the job, and that's a great reason to hire you. But everyone wants this job. Your readers are focused on their needs, not yours. How will this move benefit them, not just you?
- Be funny, but don't blow it. Comedy is difficult and risky. If you have what it takes and you're ready to gamble, try out some of your latest material. An easy stab at humor can be accomplished by reading the job description carefully and noting informal requirements for the position. If the description candidly states, "This is a dog-friendly office, so you must love dogs," try adding something like this: "Though my resume fails to mention it, I love dogs." Most importantly, before you unleash your barrage of sassy, hilarious, post-ironic snark, do research and learn about this company culture to make sure your tone fits your audience.
- Be concrete by avoiding abstract statements. Give specifics, details, timelines, and numbers, and avoid vague claims. Have a friend read your cover letter before you send it, and ask if your points are concrete from an outsider's perspective.
- Don't move off message. Your sentences and jokes may be polished to brilliance, but cut them if they aren't directly supporting your case. Stay relevant.
- Keep your message short. No matter how fascinating your words may be, stop before the one page mark. Sometimes it's best to end on a high note.
For more on how to create a winning cover letter — requested or otherwise — explore the tools available on MyPerfectResume.