How to write an unforgettable cover letter (even if you're not a writer)
You've got your sights targeted on a job that you're a perfect fit for. You know that if you just get your resume into the hands of the hiring manager, you will get that call for the interview.
But in the back of your mind, you know that there are 100s, if not 1000s, of other applicants who are already in line in front of you. How are you going to win this competition for that job?
Fingers on the keyboard, you're ready to apply for the job. But you must be different. Something has to make you stand out, else your resume remains unopened, and this is yet another failed job application.
Your cover letter is what gets your resume opened. That's it's sole purpose. Nothing more. It's created to grab the attention of the recruiter or hiring manager so they say to themselves "Hmm, interesting. Let's see what this candidate has to offer", and they open your resume.
Your cover letter's mission is accomplished!
Simple enough right? But hold on, are you skilled as a writer to create such a convincing document? You don't have to be. There is a simple formula for cover letters that work, and we are going to let you in on that secret in this post.
Why is the cover letter important?
First, let's address the skeptics who believe that the cover letter is a waste of time.
Hiring managers in North America hire more for soft skills than hard skills. There are exceptions of course for highly skilled regulated jobs, but for the most corporate office jobs, it's the candidates winning personalities that trumps technical capabilities.
Why? Because everyone has technical abilities, and if not, those can be trained. But it's a person's personality that decides if the manager likes or dislikes you.
Your resume is a collection of your past experience and skills. So where is your personality in all of that content? It's not.
That's where your cover letter comes in.
When we think of the golden days of "letters", we imagine those families living apart from each other, pouring out their emotions on paper. We think of those Hollywood war movies where soldiers are coiled up in tents in monsoon weather, writing to their wives and families.
What do these letters contain? Certainly not bullet points of events and experiences. It contains stories, emotion, a hope for the future. The writer's personality is captured in their letter.
Likewise, in your cover letter, you must give the hiring manager what they want the most from their new candidate - a glimpse into your winning personality.
It's going to be a letter demonstrating your commitment to the organization, your ability to be prepared, and your claim to be an empathizing problem solver.
We've said it a million times, and we'll say it again. Every job exists because it solves a problem for the hiring manager. Being a problem solver is a universal soft skill that you will echo in your cover letter.
So now that you know why the letter is important, let's break it down. Your cover letter has 4 components:
1. The Hook - An opening statement that grabs the readers attention
2. The problem - One pain point the hiring manager is facing
3. The solution - How you can solve this problem
4. Call to action - Next steps
Many professionals have stated that your cover letter and resume is a marketing document. Imagine the cover of a magazine for a moment. What do you notice? Everything on the cover is designed to get you to open the magazine.
Your cover letter is like the cover of a magazine. It must be designed to attract the reader to open your resume the same way a magazine cover is designed to attract the reader to open the magazine.
The hook is like the magazine's main headline. In your cover letter, the hook is a statement that grabs the attention of the reader.
There are a couple of options you could use, according to this article by Muse:
1. Start with a passion
2. Start with your love for the company
3. Start with an attribute or accomplishment
4. Start with humor or creativity
As we stated in the title, you don't have to be a writer to create a convincing cover letter. Using #4 with humor and creativity might require this skill.
Which is why we recommend #3 for most cover letter hooks because accomplishments are easier for non-writers.
But take note - in North America, an accomplishment is NOT a personal achievement. So don't talk about education or personal awards. Talk about something you achieved for your company:
- Team Lead position - "My boss once told me I had a natural flair for leadership. I was not aware of this skill at the time, but when my team improved performance metrics by 23% and had a friendly culture, I started realizing my potential"
- Sales position - "When my company started losing revenue in the 3rd quarter, there was uncertainty that layoffs would be coming at the start of next year. I rolled up my sleeves and did everything I could to save my team, and generated 27% more sales in Q4. Your company seems to drive sales growth year-over-year, and I would love to be a part of that growth."
Surprised? Where are all those common words like "hard-working" and "dedicated" and "multi-tasking"? Those fluffy words don't mean anything anymore.
Furthermore, the fact that everyone else is using them is all the more reason why you should not be. Isn't the point of your cover letter to stand out after all?
5. Start with homework
A final point we find that works well that does not require exceptional writing skills is using something that you've researched, either about the person or the company.
This article by Workitdaily gives you some examples of how any news or personal information about the hiring manager or their company will also be an interesting opener for your cover letter.
Once you have grabbed the attention of your reader, it's time to give them some compelling content that causes emotion, hits a nerve, and makes them think "Yes, this person understands the problem that I'm facing now."
If you are applying for a role that you have experience in, this part should be very easy for you. Think about a problem that you solved for your manager in the past. It is very likely that your new manager will be facing this problem too.
If you're not familiar with this role you're applying for, either because you are a new graduate or changing roles or moving countries where this role may be practiced differently from your experience, Google it out.
Hop onto Google and type "Challenges in the field of......"
This is where seeking the assistance of a mentor is also important, because they will give you first-hand information based on personal experiences of how the industry is practiced and the common pain points faced.
Pick one pain point:
- Accounts Receivables Position - "As the AR manager, I understand how resistant customers can be when it comes to paying on time. Various reasons such as seasonal holidays, cash flow problems, uncooperative employees in customer's organization, cause delays in collections. You don't have the time to chase after these customer's yourself because you are engaged with Sales and Senior Management activities."
Here is where your personality and work ethics shine the most. You are now going to present yourself in a light that shows you are the right person for this job.
Remember the rule of thumb - no fluff! That means no selfish self-proclaimed statements such as "I will work hard to make sure we get the money." The hiring manager and you have different perceptions of "working hard."
You may think "working hard" means putting more hours. The hiring manager will think "working hard" means thinking of innovative ways to make the work easier (this is common in North America).
So for the same position above in Accounts Receivables:
"When I joined my current organization, their collections were backdated by 2 years. Customers owed 3.2 million dollars over the allotted credit period. In 3 months, I reduced that to 280 thousand dollars, which were considered as write-offs. Our team received a healthy year-end bonus for that effort."
See the difference? This is what a true accomplishment is. And this is what will raise the eyebrows of the hiring manager.
Accomplishments are all about the numbers. In the job search process, facts are more important than opinions, because everyone has a different opinion. Backup your statements with numbers in the cover letter, because the only universal language is mathematics.
Call to Action (CTA)
So, you've convinced the hiring manager that you're a problem solver, and given them insights into your personality and work ethics. Now is the time to entice them to do something about it.
Don't be cocky, don't be pushy. Stay humble during the job search process.
Close with a simple statement asking them to review your resume and to request an interview.
"My attached resume will give you details of how I can be of service to your organization and what I have been able to accomplish in the Accounts Receivables field. I look forward to meeting you in person."
Bonus CTA: Reference your personal website.
Once again, this will make you stand out of the crowd. If you have taken the bold step of creating a video, you're giving the manager a full view of your personality front and center.
So now you know how to create a convincing and unforgettable cover letter that stands out in the heaps of applications that recruiters receive.
As you can see from the examples above, you don't have to be a great writer to follow these steps. Narrate your story on paper as it exists in your head. Hiring managers don't want a demonstration of exceptional English. They just need to hear your stories in plain simple English.
It's the value of your content that is more important than exquisite English skills.
That being said, it is important to understand the following basic rules for the cover letter:
1. Keep it short and sweet. Attention spans are very short these days in our busy world. You don't want large block texts to overpopulate the cover letter. Half a page is where you'd like to be. Culturally, North Americans believe in getting to the point.
Although you may be able to think about several problems you can and have solved in your experience, pick the one that hurts the hiring manager the most for your cover letter. Your resume will speak to the rest.
2. While you don't have to be an expert writer, there is no excuse for poor spelling and grammar. You can use my favorite free tool Grammarly to check for spelling and grammar. It helps you wherever you type, in a document, email or even in a website.
3. Always remember, it's not about you. It's about the problems you can solve for the company and the hiring manager. Always keep this in the back of your mind with every sentence you write.
So start using this 4 step formula and guidelines and your resume will get a lot more opens, and in turn you will be getting a lot more interviews.