When it comes to cover letters, hiring managers want the answers to two major questions: What can you do for us, and how will you fit in if hired? It’s the latter half that is usually harder to communicate in the constraints of a short-paragraphs-long cover letter. How on Earth do you demonstrate that you get the company culture before you’ve stepped in the door—even for the interview?
Never fear—there are surefire ways to not only convey the company’s attitude, but also own it. Try these tips for a cover letter that shows you’re the perfect fit.
Read, Read, and Read Some More
Your first step should be spending time getting to know the company's culture. Think of getting to know a company like getting to know a person—what is he or she like? Quirky? Serious? Snarky? Refined?
Start by looking on the company’s website. The content is likely written by members of the team and therefore offers the best insight into the company’s personality. Specifically, take a look at the bio page—are there professional, black and white headshots of each person, accompanied by a laundry list of professional achievements? Or are employees shown as cartoon caricatures with a Q&A listing their favorite movies, food, and ’80s rock bands? Be sure to also take a deep dive into the company's blog, Twitter, and Facebook accounts, as well as any other social media platforms that showcase the brand's style.
This voice, this personality, is what you’re going to want to use when you’re drafting your cover letter. Write as if you were having a real-life conversation with the hiring manager, demonstrating that you get how things work there and can connect with the staff on a human level.
For example, is the company all business, all the time? Get straight to your accomplishments, rather than waxing poetic about how much you love the company. Applying to a public relations agency? Be snappy and creative, and mention how much you loved a recent cover story on one of its clients. Is the company anything but ordinary? Don’t be afraid to think outside the traditional cover letter format! I once applied for a position at a startup, and after doing a little research—and carefully reading the job description that said, “no boring cover letters allowed”—I drafted a cover letter that only consisted of bullet points. And guess what? I was invited to an interview the following day.
Show Your Personality
The secret sauce of the perfect hire is someone who is compatible both personally and professionally within the company.
One of the main decisions in choosing a new hire comes down to one simple human trait—will we all get along with each other? So, as you write your cover letter, don’t just think about how you come across professionally, but also how you’d fit in with the team on a personal level.
Try playing up the interests and parts of your personality that would resonate most with the company. If you read that the company frequently does team lunches, mention your foodie side—or even serve up a few restaurant suggestions. If you’re applying to a startup that’s immensely proud of its softball league, mentioning your love of team sports will dually show your attitude as a team player and possibly get you recruited to next season’s team.
Don't Break the Cardinal Rule
What is the cardinal rule, you ask? Don’t reuse your cover letter—ever.
It’s tempting, especially when you’re deep into a job search and cranking out multiple job applications a day. I’ve been there myself! I’ve also been on the other side of the job search, and from a hiring manager’s perspective, it is always obvious when a candidate reuses a cover letter, even if there are no egregious mistakes like forgetting to write the correct company’s name.
No matter how hard you try to substitute words, it will never feel genuine if your cover letter is mostly copied and pasted. Even if you are applying to companies within the same industry, you still need to work in the nuances that differentiate each organization. Mention specific examples about why this is the place for you and why you are the perfect match for the team.
A great approach here is to name names. Checked out the company’s client list? Mention your love for a particular client’s ad campaign or a recent news item that shows your excitement for working with these brands. Noticed on LinkedIn that one of the founders attended your alma mater? Name-drop your college. When I found out that the hiring manager was a fellow art history major, I jumped at the opportunity to mention my intensive study of Italian Renaissance art. When I arrived for my first-round interview, I ended up having a 10-minute discussion about Northern versus Central Italian art—before discussing my relevant work experience for the position!
You really want this job, right? Prove it by writing something that you are passionate about. Implicit in this, of course, is that you’re passionate about the actual job and company. The more you can visualize yourself already as a member of the team, the easier it will be to write a cover letter that is both factual and authentic. Stay true to yourself, highlight your unique personality, and demonstrate that you will fit right in, and you’re almost guaranteed to land an interview—and a job.