Sure, your resume is important. It’s a piece of paper with every single professional detail about you assembled into one organized list. But when a potential employer wants to see more than just bullet points, the first place he’s going to learn more about you is your cover letter—and you don’t want to disappoint.
1. Pay Attention to Detail
When we’re hiring, we put an ‘Easter egg’ in the application, and any applicant who includes this special detail in her cover letter will be considered. It helps us identify the applicants who pay attention to detail, actually read the post, and are truly interested in the opportunity—not just sending out generic applications to each job they see.
2. Write a Dialogue, Not a Monologue
Our former admissions officers and graduate coaches help folks with cover letters every day, so we’ve seen them from all sides of the table. The worst ones have sloppy mistakes and typos, but many of them also show no theme or ‘application person,’ as we call it. If you aren’t engaging your reader, you’re already far behind in the process. At smaller companies, cover letters aren’t just a formality.
3. Do Your Homework
I look for cover letters that talk less about the candidate and more about his excitement and knowledge of my company. This tells me you’ve done your homework and that you have the enthusiasm I’m looking for. Yes, I know you really want a job and that this experience will be great for you, but what are you bringing to the table that’s unique to the needs of my company?
4. Lead With Purpose
Resumes do a horrible job of capturing the story behind what drives people. The cover letter connects the dots. It gives you the chance to elaborate on the purpose that has driven you to select a certain company as the place where you want to make a difference. Most good cover letters lead with purpose and show why a candidate truly cares.
5. Establish an Emotional Connection
The best cover letters are clear about why a candidate wants to be part of the team and how she developed an affinity for the company. This can take a variety of forms, from explaining your industry or business model expertise to how you’re a passionate user of the company’s products or services and simply want to contribute to the future success of the organization.
6. List Solutions With a Timeline
The best one I ever saw said, ‘Here are the seven solutions I can bring to your company in the next 30 days and the exact way I will execute them.’ The letter itself was more valuable than many consulting calls I’ve done.
7. Show How Your Skill Set Aligns With My Needs
Too often, I see generic cover letters that don’t align with the actual job description or the employer’s needs. A cover letter that stands out explicitly states how your skill set aligns with what the company’s looking for. This shows that you’ve taken the time to understand the organization you’re applying for and that you’ve been thoughtful in terms of thinking how you make a good fit.
8. Give it a Human Element
Anyone can write a cover letter that says the right things but still makes you sound like a robot. So one that makes the person sound like a human with personality will always stand out. Achievements, education, and qualifications are nice, but every potential candidate will have that. What stands out the most and captures my attention is personality.
9. Tell Me How You Can Deliver on Day One
Cover letters that really catch my attention are ones that are not overly formal. I want candidates to be themselves and highlight the experiences that brought them to this point. Instead of focusing exclusively on your education and credentials, tell me a story that clearly reveals why you’re an awesome person to work with and how you can deliver on day one.
10. Show Results
Showing statistics on a cover page is a great way to complement a resume. It shows an employer that you can achieve results. It also lets the reader know you take pride in what you’ve accomplished.
Photo of woman working on cover letter courtesy of JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images.
The Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) is an invite-only organization comprised of the world's most promising young entrepreneurs. In partnership with Citi, YEC recently launched StartupCollective, a free virtual mentorship program that helps millions of entrepreneurs start and grow businesses.More from this Author