The job of a cover letter is to get you an interview, so you can continue the conversation with the employer about the prospective job. You will have a better chance of crafting one if you treat it as an opportunity to show how your skills, abilities and experience are the right fit for the job in question. Here are some things to remember, and examples of cover letters that put these principles into action.
Reality Check: Employers Care ONLY About Their Needs
Yes, employers always care about their own needs. It’s a little more extreme in this market. There’s a growing sense of entitlement that’s becoming more pervasive, according to my job-hunting gang. Employers feel more entitled to pick and choose candidates who:
- Are completely qualified and have relevant experience – Employers have so many applicants that they can afford to skim the cream, often by searching resumes using words taken from job posting and description.
- Connect the dots between their experience and the position – Employers are only interested in your past as it will affect their future. They need to see that you clearly understand what they want and need.
- Believe the employer and its purpose/product are A#1 tops – Employers want you to demonstrate a real desire to work at the job which can mean you must provide work product or other value during the interview process.
- Know and are known to people inside the company – Internal references provide evidence that you’ll be a no-brainer fit within the culture
Here are some questions that you can ask yourself to make sure you are focused on the employer’s needs instead of your own.
- Is this a job to which you could add value? How so? Be very specific about translating your experience into the new position. Tell the employer a short story that shows the value you bring that other candidates may not bring.
- How and why does your experience and training prepare you to do the same or more for them? Talk about how having done something in the past prepares you to tackle this specific responsibility at the new employer.
- Is this the logical next step in your career? How does what you’ve done in the past make you the right person to enable the employer to achieve its goals?
- Does my resume contain words and terms that appear in the job posting and job description? Does my cover letter contain language from the employer’s website, showing I “speak their language?”
Your answers to these questions form the core of an effective cover letter.
I recommend being enthusiastic about the company in your cover letter simply because employers want to hire someone who wants to work for them. If it’s a toss-up between two people with relatively equal qualifications, the employer normally will interview and select the person who convinces them that s/he wants to be part of the company. Thus, it’s better to err on the side of flattery for an organization. It’s OK to say you admire an organization even if you don’t think it’s perfect. You can still think there are places you think they could improve. Usually we hope to make an impact on our place of work, and I’d expect you to see things that you could do, contributions you could make, improvements awaiting your presence.