You’re sitting down at your desk and staring at your computer screen. Maybe the job application is requesting a cover letter. Or maybe you have that dream job in mind as you’re preparing to apply. Either way, you may feel frustrated and ask yourself, “How in the world can I write a cover letter that really makes me stand out from my competition?”
Well, you could “save time” and find an online template to create a generic cover letter, but research has shown that that only has limited benefits. A recent study by a national resume writing company, ResumeGo, found that when 7,287 fictitious job applications were sent out to popular online job boards, the applications with a generic cover letter got 17% more callbacks than those without a cover letter. However, applications with tailored cover letters yielded a whopping 50% more callbacks.
The consensus? Clearly, it pays to create a custom cover letter for each job you apply to, especially if you’re applying to your dream job.
To understand how you can create a custom cover letter that helps you stand out and win the interview, it’s important to know the three essential mindsets for writing one.
A common cover letter writing mistake is to fill it with “this is why I’m so great.” The harsh truth is, hiring managers don’t really care about you. What hiring managers do care about is what you can achieve for them or their company once hired. And that’s your opportunity to shine!
The first step for starting your cover letter has nothing to do with writing. Instead, just mentally put yourself in your hiring manager’s shoes. Then ask yourself – from the perspective of the hiring manager reading your cover letter, “What’s in it for me? Is this applicant saying anything that will help me or my company with what we’re trying to accomplish? Or are they just bloviating about themselves, oblivious to my concerns?”
Once you’re done with that mental exercise, look at the job ad and notice their requirements. Ask yourself what specific skills, results, and experiences you have that match them. Then wow them with examples of how your hard-won skills and experiences match exactly what they’re looking for.
Your cover letter works hand in hand with your resume. Think of your resume as the raw data and your cover letter as the narrative that sells your resume. In other words, your cover letter provides context for your resume.
You can create a cover letter that provides the context needed for a resume that may be lackluster on its own. For example, when you have a gap in employment, you’re changing careers, or when your work history doesn’t quite match the position you’re applying for.
This is how you can make your cover letter save you in these situations: use it to explain the invaluable skills you gained while traveling or working on your self-started business for the past two years. Or how your experiences in your past roles actually do match what’s needed in this new position in an entirely different field. Or how the stellar results you achieved in your junior position prove that you can succeed in that new senior development position.
In the study mentioned earlier, 236 recruiters and hiring mangers were surveyed and asked a series of questions. One of the questions was, “How much time do you spend reading a cover letter for a typical job application?” 32 percent responded 0-10 seconds. 52 percent said 10 seconds – 1 minute. And only 16 percent read more than a minute. What this means is that usually, you barely get more than a glance from a hiring manager. So be sure to keep your cover letter short and simple.
How can you do this? Most importantly, limit the size of your cover letter. Keep it to three paragraphs maximum, and never more than a page. Yes, it will be hard, but say everything you need to as tightly as possible. Cut out all the excess. Have somebody else look over your cover letter to find any non-essentials to eliminate.
Another great tip is to use bullet points. Bullet points draw the eye. They make things look easier to read. Use just three or four bullet points and make them highlight the best examples of how you meet the qualifications of the job.
When you put yourself in the correct mindset for crafting your stand-out cover letter, you can feel confident that you’re giving yourself the best chance to win more interviews and ultimately the job you want most.