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Advice / Job Search / Cover Letters

This Is the Cover Letter Advice Everyone Misunderstands

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You’re probably the kind of person who takes your job search pretty seriously—which makes sense since you’re reading an article about cover letters in your free time. And when you find a position you’re interested in, you know to do some company research, tailor your resume, and put in the effort to write up a personalized cover letter. Way to go! What more can a hiring manager reasonably expect?

Well, it depends on how you’re interpreting “personalized.” People often interpret the advice, “Show you’re passionate about the company and understand what it does,” as “Tell the hiring manager what the company does.”

For example, if you’re applying for a role at The Muse, starting your cover letter with: “The Muse is a career website that helps Millennials figure out what they should do with their lives,” is not, let’s say, the most inspiring way to show your interest.

So, how do you show your excitement for a company without copying directly from its “About Us” page? Here are a few ideas.

1. Align With the Mission

Showing that you know what the company does is definitely one way to indicate your familiarity with it, but a better way to execute the delivery of this information is to get mission-driven. Offer a positive opinion about the product, goals, or even general trajectory of the company—then connect that with what you have to offer.

Using the previous example, you could write something like:

“I’m impressed with The Muse’s drive to connect job seekers to the best resources and opportunities. The profiles feature is a particularly thoughtful and beautifully crafted resource that clearly benefits both companies and applicants. I would be proud to use my experience in video production and shoot coordination to support this product.”

2. Focus on the People

Ask hiring managers from any company worth working for, “What’s the best part about working for your company?” or “What’s your company’s greatest asset?” and they’ll all say, “The people.” (Seriously, try it. It always works.)

It’s no surprise then that mentioning you’ve spoken with people at the company bodes well for you. It shows you went through the effort of finding and learning more from a current employee—and you (likely) have the approval of someone who was already vetted.

One thing to be careful about is sounding like you’re name-dropping. To avoid this, get specific about the conversation so that the emphasis is not so much “Look! I know this person!” and more about the information you garnered from the interaction.

Done right, it’ll look a bit like this:

“I recently spoke with John Smith about the new data science team, and the ambitious nature of the people and company goals really stood out to me. I’m most motivated when striving for the ‘near impossible’ and would be thrilled with the opportunity to help the company reach its impressive growth targets.”

3. Get Personal

How did you hear about the company? What was your first interaction with it? If nothing else works for you, you can always lean on human nature’s love of stories. Hiring managers like to ask about a candidate’s relationship with a company, so go ahead and answer that for them right at the beginning.

If you’re going to take this approach, one thing to be especially careful about is going too in-depth. Sure, you want to show your interest and how it came about, but never forget that your qualifications need to be the meat of your cover letter. That means you get one, maybe two, sentences for your story. For example, “I’ve been an avid reader of your publication since I first found it several years ago while doing research on the growing trend of outrage in political media coverage.”

Tailoring resumes is a subtle art, but cover letters are where you can really get creative when showing your fit and enthusiasm for a position. Don’t waste this chance to make a lasting impression by just telling the hiring manager what he or she already knows.

(And, if you want to really show off how much you love the company, here’s how to write a great letter of intent—yes, it’s different than a cover letter.)