I’ve read a lot of cover letters throughout my career. When I was a fellowship program manager, I reviewed them in consideration for more than 60 open positions each year. So I saw it all–the good, the bad, and the standout examples that I can still remember.
As a result, I’ve become the go-to friend when people need feedback on their job applications. Based on my own experience putting people in the “yes” (and “no”) pile, I’m able to give these cover letters a quick scan and immediately identify what’ll turn a hiring manager off.
While I can’t give you insight into every person’s head who’ll be reading your materials, I can share with you the feedback that I give my own loved ones.
1. The Basics
First things first, I skim the document for anything that could be disqualifying. That includes typos, a “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern” salutation, or a vibe so non-specific that it reeks of find-replace. I know it seems harsh, but when a hiring manager sees any one of these things, she reads it as, “I didn’t take my time with this, and I don’t really care about working here.” So she’s likely to pass.
Another thing I look for in this initial read-through is tone. Even if you’re applying to your dream company, you don’t want to come off like you think someone entertaining your candidacy is the same as him offering you water at the end of a lengthy hike. You don’t need to thank the hiring manager so incredibly much for reading your application–that’s his job. If you align considering your application with the biggest favor ever, you’ll make the other person think it’s because you’re desperate.
So, skip effusive thanks and demonstrate genuine interest by writing a cover letter that connects the dots between your experience and the requirements of the position. Telling the reader what you’ve accomplished and how it directly translates to meeting the company’s needs is always a better use of space than gushing.
2. The Opening Sentence
If your first line reads: “I am writing to apply for [job] at [company],” I will delete it and suggest a swap every time. (Yes, every single time.) When a hiring manager sees that, she won’t think, “How thoughtful of the applicant to remind me what I’m reading!” Her reaction will be much closer to, “boring,” “meh,” or even “next!”
Compare it to one of these statements:
I’ve wanted to work in education ever since my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Dorchester, helped me discover a love of reading.
My approach to management is simple: I strive to be the kind of leader I’d want to work for.
In my three years at [prior company], I increased our average quarterly sales by [percentage].
See how these examples make you want to keep reading? That’s half the battle right there. Additionally, it makes you memorable, which’ll help when you’re competing against a sea of applicants.
To try it out for yourself, pick a jumping-off point. It could be something about you or an aspect of the job description that you’re really drawn to. Then, open a blank document and just free-write (translation: write whatever comes to mind) for 10 minutes. Some of the sentences you come up with will sound embarrassing or lame: That’s fine–no one has to see those! Look for the sentence that’s most engaging and see how it reads as the opening line for your cover letter.
3. The Examples
Most often, people send me just their cover letter and resume, so I don’t have the benefit of reviewing the position description. And yet, whenever a letter follows the format of “I am skilled at [skill], [skill], [skill], as evidenced by my time at [place].” Or “You’re looking for [skill], and I am a talented [skill], ” I could pretty much re-create it. Surprise: that’s actually not a good thing.
Again, the goal isn’t just to show you’re qualified: It’s to make the case that you’re more qualified than all the other applicants. You want to make clear what distinguishes you, so the hiring manager can see why you’re worth following up with to learn more. And–again–you want to be memorable.
If you write a laundry list, it’ll blend into every other submission formatted the same way. So, just like you went with a unique opener, do the same with your examples. Sure, you might still include lists of skills, but break those up with anecdotes or splashes of personality.
Here’s a real, two-line excerpt from a cover letter I’ve written before:
If I’m in a conference room and the video isn’t working, I’m not the sort to simply call IT and wait. I’ll also (gracefully) crawl under the table, and check that everything is properly plugged in.
A couple lines like this will not only lighten up your letter, but also highlight your soft skills. I got the point across that I’m a take-charge problem solver, without saying, “I’m a take-charge problem solver.” Plus the “(gracefully)” shows that I don’t take myself too seriously–even in a job application. If your submission follows the same list-type format all the way through, see if you can’t pepper in an example or anecdote that’ll add some personality.
You want your cover letter to stand out for all the right reasons. So, before you click submit, take a few minutes to make sure you’re putting your best (and most memorable) foot forward.
Related Video: This Is What People Really Think Of Your Resumé
This article originally appeared on The Daily Muse and is reprinted with permission.
Rev up your resume to relocate
Hoping to relocate? Get the ball rolling on landing the right job in the right location with these expert resume and cover letter tips.
Rev Up Your Resume to Relocate
Let's face it: All other things being equal, employers would rather recruit local applicants than out-of-towners. It's more convenient to schedule interviews, and there are no hassles or cost concerns associated with relocation. But according to Monster data, about half of all job seekers are willing to move for the right job.
If you are planning to move or are just open to the idea of relocation, follow these tips to get your resume noticed.
Add all target locations
List all potential locations in the Monster Resume Builder's Where Would You Like to Work? fields (in the Resume Settings section). In the same section, answer "yes" to the "Are you willing to relocate?" question. When employers search resumes, they have the option to include job seekers who both reside in or are willing to work in the selected locations, so be sure your name makes their hit list.
Mention relocation at the top of your resume
Use the Resume Builder's Summary field to specify your relocation availability. If you're targeting a specific area, a statement such as "Searching for a position in the Dallas area" gets the point across. If you're more flexible, include a line such as "Available to relocate nationwide" or "Open to relocation to the Northeast." If you have firm plans to move, you can say "Relocating to Chicago in March 2018."
Elaborate in your cover letter
Your cover letter is the perfect place to explain your situation. Here are a few ways to word your relocation preferences:
- Targeting a specific area: "Please note that I will be relocating to Los Angeles in March 2018. Your opening presents the precise challenge I am seeking, and I would welcome the chance to discuss this opportunity with you."
- Returning to your hometown: This shows that you have roots in the target location, so you're more likely to stay put this time. "Although I have been successful in my current position, I am eager to make a permanent move back to Boise, Idaho." Don't be afraid to use humor and mention something unique to the town, such as the home team or weather.
- Keeping your options open: "At this point in my career, I am searching for a position that would be a perfect fit, so I am open to relocating for the right opportunity."
Be available for interviews
If you're targeting a specific area, plan to be available in the location for a week or so to attend face-to-face interviews. Your cover letter can mention that you will be available for interviews in the location for a certain period of time. You may also suggest an initial phone interview, and then arrange to meet in person if there is mutual interest.
Consider offering to pay relocation expenses
Some professionals with desirable credentials are aggressively recruited, and some employers are more than willing to pay for relocation, offer spousal relocation assistance and even help find a new house in the new location. These professionals can usually negotiate an attractive relocation package.
Other candidates face a more competitive job search, going up against local job seekers who may have comparable qualifications. If so, consider that you may open more doors for yourself if you are willing to pay relocation costs. Use this as a selling point in your cover letter with a line such as, "Please note that I am very interested in your opportunity and am willing to incur all relocation expenses" or "I will be relocating to Jacksonville in May at my own expense."
Don't use someone else's address
Some folks try to get an edge in a long-distance job search by fudging the address. This can cause problems; if your current job is located in one city and your address is far away, the hiring manager will probably be confused or concerned that your address is misleading. More problems may ensue if you're called for an interview and you're unable to get there right away. Then there's the uncomfortable discussion that you don't actually live in town. It's better to be honest about where you're living and use the above resume and cover letter strategies to show you're ready to pack your bags for the right opportunity.
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