Cover Letter Stand Out

How To Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out

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The goals of a cover letter are to 1) affirm the connection you have (hopefully) already made with the addressee and 2) to get you noticed. If that is the case, why do all the cover letters I see look the same? All short one paragraph, maybe with a few bullets about why this candidate is applying for the job.

What do you think the reaction is from recruiters and hiring managers when they see this type of cover letter? I say “SNOOZE – BORING.” Ignore! Is it effective to just talk about yourself the same way everyone else does?

No. You need to do it differently if you are going to get a different result.

How To Make Your Cover Letter Stand Out

Here’s how to make your cover letter stand out of the crowd:

Build A Connection

Your cover letter must show 1) that you resonate with this company and 2) there’s a story behind your interest. We all have our reasons for interest in the company we are approaching. Ask yourself, why do I want to work here? (Answering “because I need a job” is not allowed here.) Be real to yourself and to the company. You don’t want to waste your time or the company’s time if there isn’t a sincere interest in working at this firm.

Let’s assume there’s a a sincere interest in what this company is doing, producing, achieving. Why does it resonate with you? Now, tell your reader just that.

“The first time I served in our local soup kitchen, my heart broke and cheered at the same time. I fell in love with the people I was serving. The glimpse of hope they shared with me, though I had a nice warm apartment to go to, a job, clean food and clothes. They seemed to have no hope, homeless, on the street, begging for food. I vowed to continue to serve and be generous to those in need. That is why Mr. Non-Profit, your work at XYZ resonates with me. Your…..”

Do you see the difference of a good story that connects with them verses a boring list of one’s skills?

Realize It’s Not About You

How counter-intuitive right? Not really. Yes, YOU are applying for a job at company XYZ, but it’s not about YOU. It’s about THEM. The hiring team wants to know what’s in it for them. How can you help them, make money, save money, add clients, keep clients, build brand awareness, streamline processes, and so on?

Jobs are created because there’s a need to help the bottom-line – yup, money. I apologize to my fellow personal development friends, but a job is really about running a business – no matter where you are. Even in non-profit, how can you help the clients, raise funds, and bring more exposure to the organization?

Think of it this way: If you were a business owner and needed to hire help. How would you make the determination to do so? Behind it all is a financial piece to it. For instance in hiring a virtual assistant I need to know that the money I am paying her to take over certain aspects of my business is worth it to me. That her help will help me focus on the areas that I can generate the most money to grow my business. Agreed? The same holds true for any organization. Think like a business owner and you’ll get this part.

Surprise Them

Don’t mail a pet snake as a way to surprise a hiring team – yikes. But do surprise them with writing something different than what everyone else writes. Tell a story. Engage them. Be authentic. Tell them the problem you want to solve for them. This will surprise them.

If you want career fulfillment and you are looking for your next “good fit” job, write a different kind of cover letter.


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Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Lisa Adams

Lisa Adams, founder of Fresh Air Careers, is a certified career management coach and job search strategist, specializing in helping young professionals transition.

18 comments

  1. I find it strange many, if not all, of these articles and related comments ran over a year ago, 2013. Nothing new? I completely understand the purpose of the cover letter and have to admit the last time I was job searching was before the keyword searcher, err eliminator. Many of these advice articles also elude to ensuring the cover letter matches the font and style of the resume. Why since online resumes are in plain text, basic and boring. How many of these attention grabbers make it past the shredder? It’s all skill of word placement, the human decision maker takes what isn’t spit out.

  2. I have read many tips and many advice related to cover letters. I’ve applied most of them to my cover letter and perfect it to jobs I was applying for. at the end of the day, no body is listening to why I qualify for the job. I think there is big piece missing in today’s online job application and the piece that is missing is “Communication”. I can not express my skills by writing an article about myself every time I apply for a job. that takes me about 15 minutes to write and the end result is that nobody is even listening to me. “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with shades of deeper meaning.”-Maya Angelou

  3. On cover letters, I’ve always known being a bit creative and different from the rest would help. Your story-telling strategy is great … but it has to be relevant. That’s what you’re saying. Thank you for the tip and the general guide on how to make my cover letter stand out.

    • Yes, I always recommend sending a cover letter. It’s your opportunity to use a bit of marketing and self-promotion language to summarize how your expertise is what the hiring manager is looking for. It’s another document in your Professional Skills, Knowledge, and Experience (PSKE™) portfolio that asserts your expertise to others.

      Donn LeVie
      Author of CONFESSIONS OF A HIRING MANAGER REV. 2.0, Winner of the 2012 International Book Award for Business/Careers.
      http://www.donnleviejrstrategies.com

  4. @lisa Adams, I loved your thoughts always. To me; employer is about to take strategic decision and invest huge amount of money & time. From applicant point of view: He is offering strategic & valuable service that solve unmet need for the employer – The applicant is the CEO of this service and he should communicate in “WIII FM” in order to help employer take the right decision and recruit him.
    cheers,
    Ahmed

    • Ahmed, nicely put! You captured the relationship of hiring manager and applicant perfectly. That cover letter is the start of the communication that is an attempt to bring the two parties together for their mutual benefit.

      Regards,
      Donn LeVie Jr.

  5. Tell a story…. but not too long.
    The article suggested that the applicant write a story, but hiring managers claim that they have neither the time not the patience to read a story.
    So how does a very experienced job applicant, with a list of achievements that can fill several pages, convey a convincing story without getting thrown in the waste basket half way through?
    I know I have the skills that the employer is looking for, and a few that they don’t know yet that they need. I know that I can earn my keep, and more. And I know that I can take the position that he’s filling to a whole new level. But how do I explain it in 60 words or less? (That’s what research says is the cut off point for reading a cover letter.)

  6. Do recruiters read cover letter than resume or resume than cover letter? We teach candidates in career development that it is cover letter than resume. However, I wanted to see what employers are doing.

    Thanks!

    • Jeanette:
      You have to plan for all contingencies–those recruiters who will read them and those who won’t. For those who do, they are looking for how you position yourself as the hiring manager’s problem-solver, game changer, and solutions provider. You do that by highlighting your quantified accomplishments that are on your résumé. If you can’t assign $$ or % improvement to your accomplishments, then you must be able to articulate how your skills, knowledge, and experience contributed to the higher strategic value of your employer’s goals. Be sure to use more instances of “you/your/yours” than “I/me/my/mine” in your cover letter–that’s a rule of thumb I teach others that gives your cover letter a feel for how you address the hiring manager’s needs and not your own.

      Good luck!
      Donn LeVie Jr.
      http://www.donnleviejrstrategies.com

  7. When a job advert from a recruiter doesn’t give the name of the hiring company and there are no contact details, it is hard to make the ‘connection’. In Australia, it is common for jobs to be advertised this way.

    • Hi Will:

      No worries…just make sure your cover letter highlights how your skills, knowledge, and expertise (through quantified accomplishments) address the needs of the hiring manager. To do that (rule of thumb), I advise clients to use more instances of “you/yours/your” than “I/me/mine/my” in their cover letters. Also, avoid stating the obvious, such as “As my attached résumé indicates..” or “You can contact me at the numbers/address below…” I think hiring managers can figure out how to contact you or why you sent them a cover letter. I see so much unnecessary verbiage in the thousands of cover letters I have reviewed over my 25 year career as a Fortune 500 hiring manager. Be sure to position yourself as the hiring manager’s game changer, problem-solver, and solutions provider–then it won’t matter about whether the contact information is there…if you sell the recruiter on your accomplishments and expertise, you’ll sell the hiring manager.

      Cheers!
      Donn LeVie Jr.
      http://www.donnleviejrstrategies.com

  8. In my opinion, the reality is that there is no right way to write a cover letter. While all the above recommendations can be effective ways to stand out during reviews, they can equally be terrible wastes of space depending on the job, the field you’re working in, and more. Hell, they can even depend on the mood of the person reading your letter.

    Because there’s only so much space in one letter, you have to choose and pick what you want to say. Sometimes, saying less is saying more. Other times, it’s good to start with a well-written empathetic introduction like the one posted above.

    So before you begin writing your cover letters, think about where you’re applying to. Non-profits like to see the connection and the story. Business firms and government positions? Not so much.

    • Very good points, OC. That’s why I tell people to steer clear of canned cover letters or “templates” because there’s only one way to write a cover letter: the way that positions YOU as the hiring manager’s problem solver. You have to know how your skills, knowledge, and expertise will apply to the needs of the hiring manager–whether that be for a position in government, the private sector, or non-profits. However, the one thing ALL cover letters have in common is in positioning YOU as the hiring manager’s go-to person/candidate. You do that by demonstrating quantified accomplishments on your résumé ($$ or % are the language of hiring managers in many instances) and using a tone that communicates you understand the hiring manager’s challenges, issues, and needs. The cover letter tone should always come across as being a solutions provider–a valuable resource, because the last thing a hiring manager wants is another employee looking for a job.

      Donn LeVie Jr.
      http://www.donnleviejrstrategies.com

  9. Some great advice… Having said that I think people be mindful of the “hot spots” that people’s eyes follow when they look at something. I believe it’s important to put the facts up front, recruiters don’t always have time to hear your story, they simply need to see your skills match…and they will skip over the rest until they can determine your worth further attention. First things first… Research the required skills for the role and hammer the message home up front in the first paragraph… Then tell your story and build character.

  10. Hi,
    I am interesting in any career coach program to upgrade my skill in order to support others in my service. Nice to learn from you.

    Thank you,
    Sifra Susi

    • Hi Sifra,

      One of the greatest career coaching techniques I know (and I admit my bias)is working with Motivational Maps to align career development with the motivational needs of a client/colleague and the goals of the team or organisation. If you would like to know more about this, please do email me (mark@motivationalmaps.com) or ring (UK)01789 842929

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