In a previous post, I spoke to the importance of writing an awesome cover letter. Too many people just don’t know how to write an effective cover letter that will get the attention of the hiring manager and land an interview. Back in the day, I also used to be pretty bad at writing them. But ever since I’ve started using the techniques below, I’ve been seeing a 90% response rate on my cover letter outreach.
The good news is you can do this too! No matter what your background or experience level, try implementing the tips I outline in this article and I promise you results.
Like most people, I first learned how to write cover letters by reading resume books and utilizing my school’s lame career services office. Unfortunately, both of these resources gave the same ineffective advice, which to summarize was this:
- Restate the experiences you bulleted on your resume but in paragraph form
- Incorporate some generic words & phrases that show how excited you are about the position and how great you are.
I can tell you from experience that this just doesn’t work. Being too generic and just restating your resume has 4 main problems:
- It shows nothing about who you are & your personality.
- It isn’t specifically tailored to the company and job you are interested in.
- It doesn’t give any interesting ideas for what you could/would do if you had the job.
- Most importantly: It will bore the reader to death.
I can’t stress this last point enough; as someone who is now on the other end and has read hundreds of candidate cover letters as a hiring manager, I can tell you that if the letter is boring, I never read past the first paragraph. I just don’t have time or the interest level to read the same generic letter over and over again.
A bad example
To help you spot a generic cover letter (so that you never do it again!) below is a common example I’ve seen from candidates that have applied for open jobs on my team (names and job titles are tweaked by me):
Dear Corporate Person,
I am writing to express my interest in the Sr. Awesome Manager position at your company. I feel that I am a great fit for this role given my background and interests.
I graduated college in 2014 with a bachelor of arts in Psychology from University of Awesome. While there, I was the president of my fraternity and captain of our crew team. Through all these experiences I refined my leadership skills and discipline, as juggling this course load and extracurriculars is no small feat.
I believe my leadership skills, ambition and dedication is perfectly suited for an opportunity at your company. I look forward to speaking with you soon.
Lame, Lame, LAME.
So, if you can’t tell already, what is so bad about this letter is that it’s completely boring and generic. The author says nothing that isn’t already discoverable in his resume. Additionally, he never says anything about the job he is applying for and what he specifically would do in that role.
Whenever cover letters like this come across my desk, I usually read the first two lines and then toss it aside (along with the candidate).
Now, if this is how you write your cover letters, don’t feel too bad. I used to do the same thing, even after graduating from business school! Just stop doing this from now on.
My methodology for good cover letter writing
When you know better you do better. That’s why I designed the RPV approach, which outlines exactly how to write a great letter that guarantees a response!
- R: Research. Do your research. Really take the time to learn about the company and the job. Read recent press releases on the company, understand their strategy and how they make money, think about some problems they might be facing.
- P: Personal. Make it personal. Take the time to know the person you are writing to. And I mean the Hiring Manager (ie- your future boss), not the HR person. You can do this by looking up the Hiring Manager on LinkedIn and even Googling him/her. Really take the time to get to know them. Point out something you have in common in your letter; say something observant/smart/fresh.
- V: Value. Show how you’ll create value. Come up with three to five ideas for how you can add value in said role at said company.
- Don’t be intimidated that your ideas aren’t good enough or are wrong. As long as they are thoughtful and authentic, the recipient will be appreciative that you actually did this exercise.
- Don’t ask the hiring manager what his problems are either. That just gives the reader more work to do when he’s probably already a very busy guy. Instead, you want to come in knowing what his/her problems are and be the solution provider. Brainstorm some of the problems he may be facing and pitch a solution.
Follow this RPV approach and I promise that you’ll start to see some success! Now I know writing custom cover letters for each job you apply for is a lot of work, but this is your career we are talking about here. Rather then aimlessly applying to job after job with the same standard messaging, wouldn’t it be more effective to target a few jobs that you are passionate about?
Taking the time to understand the job, the company and how you can add value will differentiate you from the pack and float your resume to the top of any pile. So give it a shot. You have nothing to lose! And for more resources on awesome cover letter writing, check out this article from The Muse.
What do you think about this approach? Is it helpful? Do you have more questions? Drop me a line below and I’ll get back to you!