Cover letters that get noticed: Ask Amber

By Amber Alarid, JVA Consulting

Cover letters. You’ve all heard about them, you’ve probably all written them—but are they landing you the interview? I recently read an article entitled: “The Five Biggest Wastes of My Time When I Was Unemployed” and was instantly intrigued by the focus on cover letters. As the author says, if every young professional is receiving the “same, generic, common sense advice” for crafting cover letters, how do you make yours truly shine? The reality is, many employers still require, or at least encourage, cover letters, because if done correctly they can give young professionals a chance to build on their resume and set the stage for an exciting interview. It’s not enough to spell check and write the recruiter’s name correctly at the top of the letter anymore—correct grammar, spelling and punctuation are expected and your letter won’t get extra points just for being typo-free. So, how do you create the cover letter that gets recruiters enthused about meeting you without spending all your precious time adapting the same old form letter? I’m glad you asked!

ONLY apply for jobs you REALLY want

One of my favorite things about the “Five Biggest Ways” article is that the author is very honest about her struggles as a young professional and asks her readers to be honest as well while job hunting. Yes, I know, this doesn’t seem tied to writing a cover letter but I promise you it is. If you are less than thrilled about a job, that lack of passion will show through in your cover letter the same way your excitement will if you are sincerely interested. If you don’t want the job, don’t apply.

Let your personality shine through, but maintain simplicity

Every paragraph you write should be carefully crafted to convey why your unique skill set is the BEST for the position. Cover letters should be brief (never over one page), out of respect for the recruiter’s time, meaning that you must make each statement count, deleting any and ALL irrelevant information or repetition. While I did say the cover letter should be creative, please note that I am referring to the language you use and the connections you draw, not the format. If a cover letter is difficult to read or understand, it won’t make a good impression. This may seem like common sense, but in today’s competitive job market some applicants stray from traditional cover letter formatting, something I would highly discourage. If you have an online portfolio or other creative work samples in addition to the materials you submit for your application—mention them in your cover letter—but do not include them unless asked.

Be proactive

You may have already read cover letter advice columns that advise you not to leave your application open ended with a wishy-washy statement like, “I would love to hear from you in the near future.” Hopefully, you are already avoiding vague and passive statements and platitudes. However, I have read several blogs/articles, like this one that advise you to go one step further. As the article says, use “polite” but “persuasive” language to ask for a meeting or outline your own next steps such as suggesting a follow-up call or meeting. Be sure that if the application specifies NO PHONE CALLS, you respect the employer’s wishes and instead consider something like a follow-up thank-you card or email that will remind the recruiter that you really are interested in the position.

Don’t reinvent the wheel

My personal suggestion for those writing cover letters is to research the common advice that other young professionals have received and then download or print some sample cover letters and imagine that you are competing with these other applicants. How does your cover letter differ? If you are stuck, ask a friend to compare the letters and point out similarities and give suggestions on how to make your cover letter stand out.

Are you currently writing a cover letter? Share your questions or creative advice in the comments section below. Have you reviewed a cover letter that you really loved? Give examples of the elements that really stood out to you below.

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