No-Fail Cover Letter Strategy
By Kristi Dosh, Director, Sports Marketing and Vice President, Public Relations at Reputation Ink
Cover letters often make or break job candidates for me. Now, not every hiring manager feels that way, in fact I know many who don't even read cover letters. In my opinion, however, it's where candidates really set themselves apart and where I really get a sense of who they are and if I want to work with them on a daily basis.
Cover letters are also the most frustrating part of the application process for most of my career coaching clients. And honestly, 98% of the hundreds of cover letters I've reviewed over the years are essentially the same. They say vague and generic things like "I'm a hard worker" and "This is my passion!"
Here are some simple cover letter strategies to use when responding to job postings.
Start with the job posting
Yes, this means you should have a different cover letter for every job. I know, that takes a lot of time. How much is your next job worth to you? If you really want the job, take the time.
Chances are good the job posting has a bulleted list of job responsibilities or requirements (or both). Go through that list and circle everything you've done before.
Next, go through the items you circled and ask yourself which three things you've mastered. Which three things do you have slam dunk examples for from previous jobs? Those three things are going to be the basis of this cover letter.
Give specific examples
You'll, of course, start your cover letter with an introductory paragraph, which only needs to be a couple of sentences explaining who you are and what you're apply for. If you have a personal connection at the company or organization, or if you were referred by someone, this is where you'll want to point that out as well.
Next, you're going to take two or three of the things you chose and use them as the basis for your cover letter.
A majority of the cover letters I review use what I'll call the "meat" of the letter to walk the reader through their last few jobs. Folks, your resume does that. Use this space to do something your resume doesn't do, which is give in-depth, very specific examples of work you've done that directly relates to the position at hand. Give each of the three things you chose one short paragraph, and then close the letter with a sentence or two expressing your interest in speaking further about your qualifications.
The goal is for the reader to picture you doing those tasks, which means they can picture you doing the job they're hiring to fill. The most common pitfall is to think you have to summarize everything you've ever done to show you can do everything on the list in the job posting. That's the wrong tactic. Instead, give very specific examples of a few things you've nailed in previous positions to make you really stand out from the crowd.
Need an example?
Some of us learn best through examples. Let's say this is one of the bullets in the job requirements:
- Experience running social media accounts for at least one sport at the D1 level
Here's what I would write in response:
Part of my responsibilities as assistant communications director at University X included managing multiple social media accounts for men's golf, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. When I took over the accounts, I met with our marketing department and the coaching staff to identify goals for the account and the best way to coordinate our efforts. One goal was to attract new followers, which led me to the idea for "lifestyle" posts about each of our student athletes that ultimately resulted in a 225% average increase across all accounts.
Here's what this paragraph conveys:
- I not only have experience running social media accounts for a sport at the D1 level, I was also specific about exactly which social media platforms I was using.
- I took ownership of the accounts. Saying "When I took over the accounts" is a very subtle (but effective) way to convey this.
- I made it clear that I work well with others and don't isolate myself to my department by saying I met with the marketing and coaching staffs.
- I also made it clear that I developed a strategy and wasn't just throwing up posts willy nilly.
- I then used one of our goals that we achieved as a specific example, attaching a percentage to it in order to quantify my results. Any time you can include a number of measurement like that, you absolutely should. Even if you were part of a team, claim your achievement as part of the team. Numbers really leap off the page in a cover letter, because they're so rarely used.
Show, don't tell.
Anyone can say they "improved the social media accounts for men's golf."
Do you see the difference between saying that and giving the more descriptive paragraph above?
Kristi Dosh is Director, Sports Marketing and Vice President, Public Relations at Reputation Ink where she focuses on helping individuals and companies build their brands through blogging and social media. She is also an attorney and a sports business analyst who has reported for outlets such as ESPN, Forbes, Campus Insiders, Outkick the Coverage on FoxSports.com, Bleacher Report, SportsBusiness Journal and The Motley Fool.