When it comes to writing cover letters, many people find themselves at a loss, wondering, "How can I write something that will stand out from the crowd?" Funny enough, it’s not flowery language or an elaborate life story that’s going to set you apart. The most effective cover letter is one that the hiring manager reads and understands with ease. All you have to explain is: Why does it make sense for them to hire you? Here’s a simple structure you can use to get this information across in a clear and concise way:
1. Greeting. “Dear Hiring Manager,” is a safe bet for opening your cover letter, but can you do better? Conduct some research to learn who might actually be reading this letter and try to address it to that person directly for a more personal touch.
2. Intention. The first paragraph of your cover letter should address your intention in applying for this job. Consider the following questions:
3. Qualifications. You’ve probably heard someone say that cover letters are about what you can do for the company, not the other way around. While it’s important to express enthusiasm for the role when you state your intention, you also have to convince the hiring manager that you have the right skills for the role. Take a look at the job posting, and try to figure out what skills the hiring manager values most (hint: they’re usually listed near the top). Then look back through your own experience and explain specific responsibilities and achievements from previous roles that demonstrate those skills. Be selective -- you don’t need to write a novel here. Two or three sentences will do.
4. Wrap up. End your letter by summarizing one or two key points that show how you will be an asset to the team. Indicate that you’ve attached your resume and are interested in discussing further. And sign off with “Sincerely,” or another professional close.
And that’s it! No need to regale us with tales about your childhood dreams or four pages detailing your entire work history. By following this simple structure, you’ll be able to create a persuasive argument that will give the hiring manager the exact information they need to understand your resume, no more, no less
-- Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
The job search can be frustrating -- especially when you feel like you’ve been submitting tons of job applications and aren’t getting any bites. But if you’ve sent out 50 applications and haven’t heard a word on any of them, it’s likely that you’re doing something wrong. Here are some questions to ask yourself that can help you assess the problem:
Are you qualified for the jobs you’re applying for?
Go back and take a look at the jobs you’ve been applying for. Re-read the job descriptions -- do these jobs actually make sense for you? Will the skills and experience you put in your resume prove you can do the job? If you’re an assistant applying for director-level jobs, it’s unlikely that you’re going to get any calls. It’s okay to reach a bit, but be realistic with your expectations. Conversely, you don’t want to apply for jobs you’re overqualified for either. If you’ve been an assistant for five years, it’s probably time to start looking at coordinator positions -- employers aren’t interested in hiring people who will get burned out quickly or start asking for a promotion after three months. Besides, you start to seem desperate if you’re applying for jobs that are too far below your level. Compare your resume to the job postings to see how well they align. If you don’t have a lot of the key required skills or are already doing work beyond what’s asked for, you may not be applying for the right jobs. Be a little more selective with your search, and try to focus on those jobs that match your qualifications.
Are you excited about the jobs you’re applying for?
Aside from being qualified for a job, it’s also important that you’re excited about a prospective position. It’s easy to spot a generic cover letter from someone who isn’t particularly passionate about the role. So don’t waste your time with applications you’re not excited about. A good test to figure out which opportunities are right: Try writing your cover letters from scratch -- you’ll find that they’ll flow much more easily for the jobs that really are a fit. Then, focus on those opportunities. You’ll have more luck if you’re going for quality over quantity.
How are you actually applying for these jobs?
If you’re both qualified and excited about the jobs you’re applying for but aren’t hearing anything back, you may be going about the job application process wrong. In Hollywood, most people are hired through referrals or promoted internally, so if you’re only using the online application to submit your resume, that’s probably your problem. Try to find a direct contact that can get your resume into the right hands. If you don’t know someone at the company or in the department you’re applying for, you can use LinkedIn to try to find a connection. Ideally, you’ll find someone who knows someone who can pass along your resume, but if this isn’t possible, a cold email can work too. Make sure you’re taking extra steps to get your resume to the hiring manager -- it will help prove how much you want the job.
Do you have a strong resume and cover letter?
If you’re doing everything above right, your problem is probably your resume or cover letter. A disorganized resume or cover letter with typos and poor writing is obviously not going to get you an interview, but that’s not the only thing that can make for a bad resume and cover letter. Do your resume and cover letter tell a story? And is that story one that shows you’re right for the job? You MUST tailor your resume and cover letter to the job posting. You should always try to create a new cover letter for every job application, and sometimes, you should create a new resume as well (or at least make some tweaks) -- especially if you’re applying for executive level jobs. Take note of the nuances in the job posting, and make sure your resume and cover letter reflect the core skills of the role. A strong resume and cover letter match the job posting and demonstrate why it makes sense for the company to hire the candidate.
We recognize that all of this may sound like a lot of work -- and it is. But if you can be a little more targeted in your search and thorough with your process, you won’t have to send out nearly as many applications to secure an interview, and you'll be less stressed out in the process!
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
Many people find the idea of writing a cover letter daunting – some will even avoid job applications where a cover letter is requested. If you’re one of these people, you may need a quick refresher about the purpose of a cover letter. Cover letters are actually pretty easy to write once you know what's supposed to go in them!
A cover letter is not a college admissions essay, nor is it intended to be a writing sample. It’s also not supposed to be a version of your resume in paragraph form. To put it simply, a cover letter serves as a preface to the rest of your job application. Think about it as the introduction to the story you’re trying to tell in your resume – how are you going to frame the rest of the information you’re putting forth in your application?
To write a good cover letter, all you really have to do is concisely explain why it makes sense for you to work at a particular company. What skills do you have that align with the most essential skills a hiring manager is looking for? Why are you interested in the company or role on a personal level? Are there any unique circumstances that make you a stand out candidate that can’t be demonstrated in a resume? And that's really it. If you can answer these questions in half a page or less, you’ll be in good shape!
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan
There’s something about the word “cover letter” that strikes fear into the hearts of many job applicants. College career centers tend to put a huge emphasis on creativity and flowery wording when teaching cover letter writing, and this can be daunting -- who wants to write a college essay every time they see an interesting job posting? To make things worse, that advice is usually wrong, so applicants spent a ton of time writing a cover letter that bares their soul only to get ghosted. Who wouldn't want to avoid writing one at all?
We don't know why this scary, bad advice persists, but once you tune it out, you'll realize that cover letters are actually very simple to write. The art of cover letter writing will really click for you once you start to hire candidates of your own, but until then, we can demystify the process.
First, remember your target audience when writing a cover letter. A hiring manager is a busy person with a full-time job, so you don’t want to waste her time. Keep your cover letter SHORT! She is also not an English teacher, college admissions representative, or AP essay grader. There’s no need to include some extravagant backstory that shows how you’ve overcome challenges or how your childhood impacted your decision to apply for this job. No one cares.
Second, think about why you’re applying for this position. Is it something you feel you’d be good at? Why? What have you done in previous positions that can prove to the hiring manager that you have the right skills? Do you enjoy the type of work that’s being produced or the tasks that will be required? All you need to do is explain why you want to work for this company and why it makes sense for the company to hire you. And if you’re having a hard time with these questions, maybe you should reconsider your application.
Ultimately, all you really need to do is think about how you would explain your reasoning behind applying for a specific job to a friend and write it down in a few short, professional sentences. You can convey your passion for the job by stating it simply and reinforce the skills listed on your resume with a few key highlights. Don’t overthink it. And certainly don't let a cover letter scare you away from a potential opportunity.
--Angela Silak & Cindy Kaplan