If you Google “cover letter,” you will find the same format on hundreds of websites. The typical cover letter opens with a clear statement that tells human resources the name of the position for which you are applying and where you saw the advertisement. After the first sentence, a cookie-cutter letter details how the writer’s skill set fits the competencies listed on the job description.
If you want your cover letter to blend in with the crowd, follow this format. However, if you want to stand out, you need to approach cover letters differently.
The Header and Salutation
Before you begin writing, research the target business and unearth its purpose, its successes, and its challenges. As you research, make sure to find the name of the hiring manager. If the website is not forthcoming, let Google and social media help you. If online searches let you down, pick up the phone.
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Never use “to whom it may concern” as you salutation. This is one phrase that really irritates hiring managers because it conveys laziness. In fact, if you use this phrase, you can expect your application package to go straight into the trash can.Instead, put the hiring manager’s name in the address and in the salutation.
You may be tempted to use “to whom it may concern” if you have found several names but are unsure of which one is the hiring manager. Even if you are not confident that you have chosen the correct name, avoid “to whom it may concern.” A wrong name is far better than the generic salutation.
The First Paragraph
The first paragraph should encourage the hiring manager to read further. Imagine a tall stack of application packages. If you were tasked with evaluating them, you would find quick ways to eliminate as many as possible. If your first paragraph shines, your package is likely to move to the short stack instead of to the trash can.
Remember that research you did? Use what you learned to make your first paragraph fit the tone of the company’s online presence. If you are applying to a bank, a formal first paragraph will be more effective than a witty first paragraph. However, witty or enthusiastic first paragraphs are appropriate in many situations.
To write a formal first paragraph, begin with an upbeat overview of your skills coupled with how you can use them to help the company. For example, you might say, “I am a graphic artist with over 10 years of experience, and I’d love to bring my skills and passion for excellence to your recently formed content development team.”
To write a witty, enthusiastic first paragraph, begin with fun, attention-commanding prose. For example, try opening with one of your accomplishments, with your driving passion, or with some praise about the company. Use the following examples as inspiration:
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- Lead with accomplishments. A former supervisor called me a superstar because she saw how I used focused listening to drive sales. Listening to people so that I can truly to meet their needs gives me a rush. I’d love to bring my successes in a fast-paced customer service environment to your customer service manager position.
- Lead with your passion. Some people meditate, and others exercise. I write. Even when I was a child, I turned to writing when life got confusing or stressful. My passion for the written word has led me to from writing fiction and nonfiction to using the power of the pen to impact human behavior through copywriting.
- Lead with why you love the company. Sweet tea may well be the meaning of life. This Southern beverage has accompanied me to football games, picnics, and Sunday lunches. When Milo’s made gallon jugs of sweet tea available to those too busy to make their own each day, I rejoiced. Promoting this sweet beverage on the Internet through your social media marketing position would be my dream job.
If you didn’t address the title of the position you are seeking in your first paragraph, include it in the first sentence of the body of your letter. Otherwise, jump right into how you can help the company succeed. Don’t be like everyone else and simply reiterate the job description. Use your research to address the company’s mission, success, and challenges.
It’s never a waste of time to learn more about the company to which you are applying. After all, when you get the interview, you’ll wow the hiring managers with your go-getter inside knowledge.
In the body of your letter, minimize “I” statements and focus on the company. Don’t just say that you have experience in sales. Give concrete examples of your success — statistics are great — and explain how your experience will impact the company. Addressing specifics about the company and how you would fit in makes your letter stand out in a sea of monotony.
The opening and the closing are the two most important features of a sales letter. A cover letter’s purpose is to sell yourself, so be bold in the conclusion. Restate why you are perfect for the position, encourage the reader to learn more about you by reviewing your resume, and directly ask for an interview. Also, thank the hiring manager for taking the time to read your letter.
A great cover letter keeps its audience at the forefront of the writing process. Your audience is the busy hiring manager, so keep your letter short and upbeat. Motivate the hiring manager to call you for an interview, and double-check that you have used the company name throughout instead of the generic “your company” or “your business.” When your cover letter is short, compelling, and focused on selling yourself to one company at a time, you’ll be amazed at how many interviews you get.