5 tips for telling your story with a cover letter

I used to hate cover letters with a burning passion. Each time I set out to apply for a new job, I practically groaned aloud at the thought of writing yet another cover letter. After sending several hundred cover letters (believe it!), as well as being on the other side and reading hundreds of cover letters, I’ve come up with a strategy that's served me well, and that I've distilled for you in 5 top tips. Cover letters don’t have to be boring and predictable, I swear! Here we go:

1.     Start with some kind of belief statement that hopefully aligns with the organization you’re hoping to impress. Something like, “I believe that every child deserves a fair education” is a lot catchier than opening with “My name is Julie Lenard, and I’m applying for the position of [blank].” Even though it’s a cover letter, remember that the hiring officers are reading so many of them that it can’t hurt to open with a hook.

2.     You’re essentially writing a mini 5-paragraph essay (even if your letter isn’t quite 5 paragraphs), so you need a thesis statement at the end of your introductory paragraph to direct your potential employer to the key points you want to hit. You know, a simple “Because I’m this, this and that, that’s why you should hire me” type of sentence. That will make it easier for your perspective employer to skim (and they will skim) to figure out your best qualities.

3.     Remember to personalize your cover letter. It’s great to have a basic cover letter that outlines your amazing qualities that you can easily adapt for different jobs, but don’t forget to change those little details like what the job is about and the organization’s name for every single cover letter. If your cover letter talks about Job A when you’re applying to Job B, your “attention to detail” bullet point in your resume won’t hold up quite as well.

4.     Your cover letter is the road map to your resume, however, make it different from your resume. So many times I’ve seen the exact same verbiage simply regurgitated on a cover letter, and believe me, it’s noticeable. Think instead about supporting each amazing quality with a very short story (one or two sentences).

5.     At the end of your letter, make sure (like a good 5-paragraph essay) to conclude by summarizing your qualities and connecting them to the position you’re applying for, in one to two sentences. Remember to make it super easy for your potential employer to connect the dots!

I can’t guarantee that it will be any less scary applying for jobs, since I know that it’s never easy to put yourself out there. Just remember that a healthy dose of passion, knowing exactly what your strengths are, and the ability to connect it all will make all the difference when writing your cover letters. Good luck!