You can debate whether cover letters are dead as much as you’d like, but that won’t change the fact that some hiring managers will continue to read them, and to those people, what you write still matters. Knowing that, it’s worth taking some time to think about what message you want to send.
And no, the message shouldn’t simply be “Hire me.” Everyone’s application can be summed up with those two words. The best examples always have a “because” attached that explains why you deserve to be hired.
In other words, if you were to distill your whole letter into one line it would be: “Hire me, because I have a ton of relevant experience,” or “Hire me, because you’re a two-person company and I know how to wear a ton of hats as things evolve,” or the ever-popular, “Hire me, because I’m incredibly excited about this position.”
As you may’ve noticed, that last line isn’t quite as strong as the first two—at least not off the bat. While it shares why you’re interested, it doesn’t mention what you’d bring to the role. It only covers your passion for the position. Sure, you’re excited about the position, in love with the company, and obsessed with the industry. But while your goal may be to distinguish yourself as someone who’d go the extra mile because you genuinely care, you end up blending into a crowd of notes that read more like fan mail.
Don’t get me wrong: Enthusiasm can be a strong selling point. But you have to package it correctly so that it speaks to how you’d be a capable hire. Here’s how to reframe three of the most common (and worst) lines:
Old Line: “I Have Dreamed About Working at [Organization] for Years”
New Line: “I Noticed the Company Has Recently Shifted Toward [X]”
Saying you’ve always wanted to work somewhere doesn’t actually mean anything. First, anyone can make that claim. Second, you might have always dreamed of being an amazing cook, but if you never spend any time in the kitchen, you’re not qualified to prepare a banquet meal.
Now, if you’ve actually followed an organization since its website was in beta, that’s a definite advantage. Clearly, you get the target audience, and you have a strong sense of the company’s evolution. These two facts would make you a more valuable hire then someone who just stumbled upon the business.
So, focus on the tangible way that your history with the company would allow you to quickly fit in and get to work. By mentioning that the organization seems to have shifted its messaging, or packaging, or something that only someone who worked there or truly loved the product would know, you’ll make it clear that you could contribute an informed opinion from day one.
Old Line: “I Want This Job More Than You Can Believe”
New Line: “I Was Excited to See One of the Main Responsibilities Is [X]”
A lot of people worry about their cover letters sounding stiff and robotic. So, they err on the other extreme, making it sound like they’re sitting across the table from the hiring manager, telling him or her just how much they really want the role. Not only could this line show up in anyone’s cover letter (i.e., it’s not distinguishing you at all), but you never want someone to be able to switch out the word “job” for “relationship” and have your note read like a speech from The Bachelor.
Instead of professing your love for a role, look for a specific aspect of the position’s description that you’re perfectly suited for. One way to do this is to ask yourself follow-up questions: Why do you want this job so much? What element of it are you most excited about? Why will you be better at that task than other people applying to the same role?
Use the answers to drill down to why you’re excited and what you’d bring and your letter will be much more memorable than one that simply shares overall enthusiasm.
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Old Line: “I’m the Biggest Fan of [Industry]/[Your Company]/[Your CEO]”
New Line: “As a huge fan of [Industry]/[Your Company]/[Your CEO], I know that X…”
It’s true you follow the company, the founder, or every major influencer in the field on all social media platforms. You get alerts whenever there’s news and your talk about the company so often that people ask if you work there.
And you want the interviewer to know that, to get that you’re already an ambassador for their work, and that you’d be up to speed. However, you never want to look like just a fan. Because that’ll also make it seem like you’d probably be a “yes man” (or “yes woman”); someone who’d be so excited to come to work each day he’d follow any plan—instead of pushing back when there might be better options.
So, highlight all of the good aspects of your close attention to the company or sector. Are there changes afoot that you’re well aware of and would be equipped to help with? Has there been recent growth or resturcturing you’d love to contribute to? Including a specific detail and how you’d fit in shows more than your passion—it also highlights your fit.
The lines that literally spell out how much you’d like to work somewhere are just taking up valuable space. If you take the time to customize your cover letter and share why you’re the best person for the job, your enthusiasm will shine through more naturally—and more convincingly.
Photo of job seeker courtesy of Carlina Teteris/Getty Images.
TopicsResumes & Cover Letters , Impress Me by Sara McCord , Cover Letters , Job Search , Syndication
Sara McCord most often writes about making a better professional impression. She's been published on Mashable (where she was a regular career contributor), as well as Forbes, Newsweek, TIME, Inc., and Business Insider. A Staff Writer/Editor for The Muse, Sara has experience managing programs; recruiting, interviewing, and referring job applicants; building strategic partnerships; advising executive directors; and supporting a national network of volunteers. See more of her writing on her website or follow her on Twitter @sarajmccord.More from this Author