I’ve read a lot of cover letters throughout my career. When I was a fellowship program manager, I reviewed them in consideration for more than 60 open positions each year. So I saw it all–the good, the bad, and the standout examples that I can still remember.
As a result, I’ve become the go-to friend when people need feedback on their job applications. Based on my own experience putting people in the “yes” (and “no”) pile, I’m able to give these cover letters a quick scan and immediately identify what’ll turn a hiring manager off.
While I can’t give you insight into every person’s head who’ll be reading your materials, I can share with you the feedback that I give my own loved ones.
1. The Basics
First things first, I skim the document for anything that could be disqualifying. That includes typos, a “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern” salutation, or a vibe so non-specific that it reeks of find-replace. I know it seems harsh, but when a hiring manager sees any one of these things, she reads it as, “I didn’t take my time with this, and I don’t really care about working here.” So she’s likely to pass.
Another thing I look for in this initial read-through is tone. Even if you’re applying to your dream company, you don’t want to come off like you think someone entertaining your candidacy is the same as him offering you water at the end of a lengthy hike. You don’t need to thank the hiring manager so incredibly much for reading your application–that’s his job. If you align considering your application with the biggest favor ever, you’ll make the other person think it’s because you’re desperate.
So, skip effusive thanks and demonstrate genuine interest by writing a cover letter that connects the dots between your experience and the requirements of the position. Telling the reader what you’ve accomplished and how it directly translates to meeting the company’s needs is always a better use of space than gushing.
2. The Opening Sentence
If your first line reads: “I am writing to apply for [job] at [company],” I will delete it and suggest a swap every time. (Yes, every single time.) When a hiring manager sees that, she won’t think, “How thoughtful of the applicant to remind me what I’m reading!” Her reaction will be much closer to, “boring,” “meh,” or even “next!”
Compare it to one of these statements:
I’ve wanted to work in education ever since my third-grade teacher, Mrs. Dorchester, helped me discover a love of reading.
My approach to management is simple: I strive to be the kind of leader I’d want to work for.
In my three years at [prior company], I increased our average quarterly sales by [percentage].
See how these examples make you want to keep reading? That’s half the battle right there. Additionally, it makes you memorable, which’ll help when you’re competing against a sea of applicants.
To try it out for yourself, pick a jumping-off point. It could be something about you or an aspect of the job description that you’re really drawn to. Then, open a blank document and just free-write (translation: write whatever comes to mind) for 10 minutes. Some of the sentences you come up with will sound embarrassing or lame: That’s fine–no one has to see those! Look for the sentence that’s most engaging and see how it reads as the opening line for your cover letter.
3. The Examples
Most often, people send me just their cover letter and resume, so I don’t have the benefit of reviewing the position description. And yet, whenever a letter follows the format of “I am skilled at [skill], [skill], [skill], as evidenced by my time at [place].” Or “You’re looking for [skill], and I am a talented [skill], ” I could pretty much re-create it. Surprise: that’s actually not a good thing.
Again, the goal isn’t just to show you’re qualified: It’s to make the case that you’re more qualified than all the other applicants. You want to make clear what distinguishes you, so the hiring manager can see why you’re worth following up with to learn more. And–again–you want to be memorable.
If you write a laundry list, it’ll blend into every other submission formatted the same way. So, just like you went with a unique opener, do the same with your examples. Sure, you might still include lists of skills, but break those up with anecdotes or splashes of personality.
Here’s a real, two-line excerpt from a cover letter I’ve written before:
If I’m in a conference room and the video isn’t working, I’m not the sort to simply call IT and wait. I’ll also (gracefully) crawl under the table, and check that everything is properly plugged in.
A couple lines like this will not only lighten up your letter, but also highlight your soft skills. I got the point across that I’m a take-charge problem solver, without saying, “I’m a take-charge problem solver.” Plus the “(gracefully)” shows that I don’t take myself too seriously–even in a job application. If your submission follows the same list-type format all the way through, see if you can’t pepper in an example or anecdote that’ll add some personality.
You want your cover letter to stand out for all the right reasons. So, before you click submit, take a few minutes to make sure you’re putting your best (and most memorable) foot forward.
Related Video: This Is What People Really Think Of Your Resumé
This article originally appeared on The Daily Muse and is reprinted with permission.
7 Video Cover Letter Tips to Get the Interview
Many employers are implementing video cover letters into the application process in order to be considered for a role. A video gives candidates the chance to be vibrant on camera and to show off their personality to stand out. People process images 60,000 times faster than reading text, according to research compiled by 3M. Hiring managers are more likely to walk away remembering more information about the applicant than by just reading their resume. For somebody that does not have the most qualified resume compared to another candidate, this is a great way to win over an employer by gluing them to your content and being different. The video should be so intriguing that it sucks in the employer to want to learn more. With today’s phone technology and social apps, all you need is a phone with a video camera and apps like Instagram or Snapchat in order to making a professional looking video! These apps give one all the tools to make a video as personal and creative as possible. Video cover letters are the new norm and we have you covered on the best video resume tips to get the interview.
1. Be Technically Sound
The little things go a long way when it comes to creating a professional looking video. Be sure to check that the sound is working correctly before starting, muffled sounds will immediately disinterest a hiring manager. A high definition webcam is also a great idea, when you look good, you feel good and will perform good! A stunning clear video will come off professional to hiring managers leaving them wanting to hear more, the last thing they want to see is a pixelated screen that looks like it's from the 90s. Once the webcam is ready and sound is clear, the cameras can begin rolling!
2. Have a Plan
To ensure the video cover letter hits every point one wants to touch on and to sound professional, it is a good idea to make a list beforehand of all the important topics to discuss. Make sure to mix it up between things about your professional career and your personal life, hiring managers often try to connect with candidates about their personal life to make a human connection.
3. Keep it Concise
Keep the video cover letter concise and to the point! The average human gets distracted during a video within the first 30 seconds, state your message and successfully get it across before that mark. This will resonate with the individual much more than trying to overload information into a longer formatted video.
4. Be Original
The ultimate way to wow a hiring manager is being different and genuine. Hiring managers review too many cover letters and resumes to count so the last thing they are looking for is another generic video that sounds like everything else. They are seeking a candidate that is confident and delivering a message they truly believe in. It is definitely refreshing to see a video that displays passion and something outside the box.
5. Be Fluent
Something to avoid in the video cover letter is to stumble on words or to come off like you don’t know what you’re talking about. Be sure to keep doing takes until the video is completely fluent with no stutters or pauses and to use vocabulary one would use in an actual job interview. One thing that makes hiring mangers absolutely cringe is when candidates speak in slang or as if they are talking amongst their peers. Keep doing takes until you find that perfect one!
6. It’s Not How you Start…It’s How you Finish
For the video cover letter to have a lasting impact on the hiring manager, have a powerful ending message that captures the manager in. What one signs off with is what the manager is going to take away from the video and that will be noted when reviewing the resume. Try to end with a statement that shows you’re passionate about the position and what personally can be done to better the company that other candidates cannot.
7. Make Several Versions
The nice thing about making a generic cover letter is once it’s done, it is usually applicable to most applications and can be posted on LinkedIn for all users to view. This allows one to send content out to a lot more companies much faster. On the other hand, certain edits must be made to the video cover letter for more specific job opportunities to be more appropriate for the position.
There is no need to get nervous, get in a relaxed mindset and be yourself on camera! Following these video cover letter tips will help land that job interview and get one step closer to landing that dream job.