Most of the job seekers I know get hung up on writing their cover letter. How do I tell the hiring manager everything he needs to know about me in one page? they ask.
And I answer: You don’t.
Here’s the thing: In your cover letter, employers don’t only want to hear about you. They want to hear about themselves, too. Think about it: Some employers receive hundreds—even thousands—of applications for a single position, and presumably, a large percentage of those applicants are qualified for the job. They read pages upon pages of very qualified people describing their very relevant qualifications—so, unless you’ve done something really out-of-this-world, yours may or may not stand out.
On the other hand, if you can show a company right away how (and why) you’d add value to their team—that’s compelling.
So, for your next cover letter, stop making it all about you. Here’s what you should be saying instead.
1. Why You Love the Company
The best cover letters I’ve read are from people who have a passion for my company, and can make that passion come to life on a page. The letters that make me say, “Yes! This person really gets it.” Because, at the end of the day, I want to hire people who already get it. Most hiring managers do.
But most candidates don’t go the extra mile of showing that they get it. At best, they’ll mention the company name or say something like, “I want to work at an exciting company”—neither of which really say much. Instead, spend the first paragraph of your cover letter sharing, in great detail, why you love the company and just how much you get it.
2. What You’d Do There
Your resume is a list of your qualifications and skills, so you don’t have to regurgitate those in your cover letter. What you should do instead? Talk about how those qualifications and skills would be put to good use at the company. In detail. Don’t just say, “I know I could put my social media expertise to good use on your marketing team”—share 1-2 very specific ideas of what you might do once hired at the company (backed up by your track record of amazing accomplishments, of course).
For example, talk about an on-brand hashtag campaign you’d run on Twitter to engage users (and mention you’ve done this before, if you have), or make some concrete suggestions on how the company might adapt its Pinterest strategy to better get in front of its target demographic. Make the hiring manager think he or she can’t live without you.
3. Why You’re a Culture Fit
Last, but certainly not least, your cover letter is the perfect place to show how you’d fit in with the company culture. You don’t necessarily have to describe why you’re a culture fit (and in fact, this can be annoying), but you can show you are by the tone, words, and level of formality you use. (Uber-corporate office? Keep it professional. Creative ad agency? Absolutely ditch the “I was excited to find this position” opener.)
But, by all means, if there are specific cultural references you can include, do. Is the place known for being the most dog-friendly company in your city? Say how much you and your golden retriever would like to join the team.
If you can show your passion, your ideas for the company, and your personality, and translate them into language the hiring manager understands, you’ll be doing so in no time.
Photo of cover letter courtesy of photo source.
Kathryn Minshew is the CEO & Founder of The Muse and loves helping people find careers they actually enjoy. She has spoken at MIT and Harvard, appeared on The TODAY Show and CNN, and contributes on career and entrepreneurship topics to the Wall Street Journal and Harvard Business Review. Before founding The Muse, Kathryn worked on vaccine introduction in Rwanda and Malawi with the Clinton Health Access Initiative and was previously at the management consultancy McKinsey & Company.More from this Author