How to Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out

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It’s finally happened, after scrolling through the job board seeing jobs that are “fine” but not great, you see it. It’s a job description that looks so perfect, it’s like opening up a note in middle school from that cutie in class. “Will I go out with you?” yes, job...yes, I think I will. You update your resume to reflect the job description, you fill out the application that basically asks you to copy and paste the same stuff from your resume (that was redundant, dream job, but I still love you), and then it asks for your cover letter. You’re staring at the screen with the blinking cursor begging for you to write ANYTHING and you’re coming up with nothing that you really feel great about.

Sometimes it could be because you may be struggling with feeling like you are bragging, or that you don’t know what you can say that will stand out, or sometimes its as simple as not feeling like you don’t know even where to start. It happens to the best of us, even the most thoughtful writers. 

Statistics are showing that cover letters are on the decline, with only 18% of hiring managers saying that they think cover letters are an important part of the hiring process. However a big part of the reason why hiring managers feel this way is because most cover letters, honestly, are really boring. A cover letter that screams “I’m a template!” will cause even the most thorough and thoughtful hiring manages or recruiters to have glazed over eyes while reading. A bad cover letter is all about why the candidate is a great hire and not as much as why they are a great hire for this role. Here is how you have a cover letter that stands out:

Tell a story

This isn’t just a cover letter, it’s a writing sample, so getting the reader engaged is important. Keep in mind that the reader doesn’t want to just know what your skills and experience are, that’s already in the resume, they want to know why you want this job. Share how you connect with them on their mission, what you like about their company, or maybe how they stand out from the competition. Starting a cover letter talking about how you follow their COO on LinkedIn and love their philosophy on mentorship in the office leaves a better lasting impression than just saying you saw the job description and were interested.

“Example: I have been following your company since the first time I used your XYZ product and I needed to make a return. I have never had such a pleasant experience with customer service before! When I read about your unique approach to customer support, I knew that your mission aligned with my passion for delivering a superior customer service experience.”

This is Not an Essay About your Resume

While your skills, education, and work experience are important, leave most of that for the resume. Focus on how your experience is a great fit for them based on the job description. Share an experience that directly applies to their job description. Did they say that they are looking for someone who is both detail-oriented and can work in a fast-paced work environment? Then you could share about how you handled a large project during your busy season and the positive results that followed. It is all about the results! One or two specific examples of why you are a good fit for them rather than recycling information from your resume gives them a sneak peek of what’s it’s like to work with you.

Example: “In your job description you mentioned you were looking for an Account Executive who is innovative, this really appealed to me because being innovative is a skill that I have been able to use to best serve my company for years. As an example, I shared my idea for a more effective sales strategy to my CEO, and she implemented this strategy company-wide, increasing our sales 218% this year.” 

Mention Where You Saw the Job Posting 

Keep this in the first few lines of your resume. What job board was the job listing posted? What person in your network slid this job posting in your DMs? Letting them know how you found out about the job helps them figure out what job board platform is getting the most attention. Also, if you found out a job from an employee, it could help push you along further in the process and potentially get your friend a reward. 

Example: “I was excited to see your job posting on PowertoFly because…”

Let the Job Description Be Your Guide

This cover letter needs to feel like it was customized for this job. So similar to your resume, you want to make sure that you are using the right keywords, especially since your cover letter may be going through an applicant tracking system (ATS) along with your resume. Look for repeating words throughout the job description and make sure you use those words as well. 

Example: if the word “collaborate” and “cross-functional” are used quite a bit in the job description, be sure to use those exact words and a sentence about how you work as an effective team member. 

It’s important to keep in mind that your job in your cover letter is to keep your reader engaged enough that they want to meet the person who wrote it. Show them why you are a great hire, but more importantly what you know about them and why you are the perfect fit for the role in their company. These steps may take you longer than sending a general cover letter that you copied from Google (we’ve all been there), but taking the time to do your homework and speak to the company’s needs is what can help you get in the door.

Noelle Johnson