How to Write an Amazing Cover Letter (Not a Boring One)
As with every resource I provide, this is just one strategy to use when writing cover letters. My guide was created using industry best practices, my preferred writing style, and previous success using these strategies. I’m well aware that there are other ways to do this, but if it works for you, go for it!
Are you tired of writing boring cover letters? Do you let out a long exaggerated sigh every time you see an option to attach a cover letter to your job application? I’m guessing your thought process probably sounds a little like this:
“Ugh. Do I have to?”
“Will I be disqualified if I don’t write one?”
“Is anyone actually going to read it if I take the time to do it?”
“I did this for the last 12 jobs I applied for, and I never heard anything. What’s the point?”
Well, I’m here to teach you how to write a cover letters that employers will enjoy reading, and dare I say it, you won’t hate writing…
Let’s start with some facts…
The cover letter gives you the opportunity to provide information that may not be explicitly addressed in your resume. Let’s talk about the benefits of a good cover letter before we jump into how to actually write one.
- It can separate you from your competition. If everyone has a good resume, but you went the extra step to draft a powerful cover letter, you may have the edge.
- It can provide more context for a good fit with the company.
- It can address possible questions that employers might have from your resume.
- It’s a chance to showcase your passion and personality.
The downside to writing cover letters is that a small percentage of employers actually feel cover letters are necessary. However, many job applications still ask for them or have an option to attach one. This means that you still need to be prepared to write one. *Cues evil hiring manager laugh.*
So, why don’t employers read them? It’s hard to tell the exact reason, but many recruiters and employers have attributed this low percentage to the time needed to read through all of them and the boring/ineffective writing style of traditional cover letters. You know, the ones you keep finding in the first 1–3 Google search results. The cover letter templates that start out like, “I am applying to the ______ position that I found on your website because I…” Why would that excite employers to read an entire letter? It wouldn’t, and it doesn’t.
As a jobseeker, you need to adopt the mentality that you are marketing yourself, your skills, and your candidacy. You need to get out of the mindset that you are entitled to a job, simply because you have worked hard. Companies don’t make money just because they’ve worked hard. They invest in marketing, and they learn how to sell their products and/or services. Your job search is no different, so learning marketing and sales strategies is transferrable.
Try using the AIDA Model. The AIDA model will serve as the structure for your new cover letter. AIDA stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action, and each letter will serve as a paragraph in the letter. The model helps you to put yourself in the mind of a customer, or in this case, an employer. It can help you to anticipate how a recruiter/employer will process through the “purchase” of your candidacy.
Let’s start with Attention. This is also sometimes referred to as Awareness. This will be your 1st paragraph. Your goal here is to grab the reader’s attention, as with anything you write. You won’t get anyone excited to read your cover letter by talking about where you found the position, why you are applying, or what you hope to gain from the job. There are a few options you can try here, but they are not limited to the following examples.
Tell a story:
You can share an impressive example of something you have accomplished that relates to the desired position, tell a story that showcases your passion for the position you want, or utilize your own creative writing style to motivate the reader to continue reading.
“As a realtor, I deal with very unique selling challenges and opportunities. One night, I received a call at 9pm from an interested buyer who wanted to see a property. On top of the late call, the property was over an hour away. Hesitant at first, I couldn’t shake the feeling that they were serious. My instincts told me to go. After several hours and negotiations over pizza, I was able to close on the sale of that property for over $3 million.”
- This specific example shows solid dedication to their job, good sales instincts, and the ability to satisfy their customers’ needs.
“As a desk assistant, I always believe in making the best first impression. On one occasion, a patient came in with their family for an appointment. The patient had special needs, and I wanted to assist as best as I could. I worked to build rapport and make the patient and their family feel welcomed and comfortable. Shortly after the visit, I received a call from my supervisor. They notified me that the family was overwhelmed with joy, and their son had never felt so included before. They mentioned that my eye contact and professional demeanor with their family was phenomenal. They have never experienced care in that way. To also have their child be treated the same as everyone else, definitely made a lasting impression on them.”
- This examples showcases a true passion for customer service and creating a welcoming environment.
Both examples tell compelling stories. The first mixes dedication to going above and beyond, while also showing a priority for customer satisfaction. The second is very descriptive, and you can almost feel the same joy that the family felt from their experience. Appealing to emotions is a great way to grab a reader’s attention.
Address current events/news that relates to the job or company:
This is an opportunity for you to show an employer that you have done your research and that you stay up to date with your industry. You can search online news platforms for specific company news or discuss a wider issue that may impact the area in which you might potentially work.
“An article in the Huffington Post this month stated that Millennial and Generation Z consumers are looking for most of their news and advertisements on social media, so businesses need to have a well-developed social media presence. I have used my marketing degree to work with multiple student organizations to help build their online presence through social media. In addition to staying aware of best practices in your industry, your company could benefit from my 2 years of experience as the Social Chair for my sorority’s alumni chapter.”
- This example shows that you keep up to date with industry trends and could offer some fresh, new ideas.
“A recent study showed that up to 40% of minority college students report having negative diversity interactions on campus. This shows that it is important to have more than just a diverse study body to cultivate an inclusive campus community, and this begins with student affairs practitioners. As a proponent for those who need the most assistance, my career has been focused on the development of at-risk students in non-traditional education settings. ”
- This example shows that you have done specific research on the issues that affect your potential position, and you have set the stage for selling your experiences that could further their goals.
These are not the only ways to capture the attention of employers. You may have another strategy in mind that work for you. Just remember to make it interesting for the reader.
Now that you have the reader’s Attention, you need to maintain their Interest. This will be your 2nd paragraph. Initially, employers have no interest in what you are looking for or want. They don’t know you. They don’t care! Turn the focus on the employer, but still sell yourself. You need to appeal to their needs, growth, image, money, etc. But why?
Let’s look at food commercials for example. Food commercials don’t advertise why the restaurant/store needs your business. They appeal to the very common and frequent feeling of human hunger (customer needs). You need to do the same with employers’ needs.
Hopefully this is starting to make sense. Now brace yourself for a little bit of science/research…
Dr. Rudolf Flesh studied and became a renowned expert of readability. He found that people are more likely to read writing if it contains more instances of “you,” “your,” and “yours.” Even in this guide, the strategy was to make it more conversational/interesting to read by using several instances of “you,” “your,” and “yours.” ;)
- I am looking for….
- I hope to join a company that…
- I am interested in…
- Your posting indicated that you are looking for…
- Your company can benefit by…
- The value added to your organization is…
Example — If telling a story as your intro:
“Your organization is known for providing support to at-risk students. By looking at my resume, you can begin to see my transferrable experience to this position. As you are probably well aware, academic advisors require great attention to detail. One mistake can lead to wasted time, money, and energy. While I do not have direct academic advising experience, I often develop academic plans for my students. All of these plans strictly adhere to curriculum yet are individually implemented to maximize all of my students’ learning styles.”
- Sounds better than, “In my current job, I help advise students, create plans, and provide individual attention.”
Example — If using your intro to discuss recent company/industry news:
“Given this new milestone, I’m sure your team will want to bring in top-notch talent to hit the ground running. I understand why your team is searching to bring a senior supply chain manager on board to potentially assist in this and other future goals. I’m sure your company could benefit from my supply chain management experience and continuous improvement successes.”
- This example shows an in-depth understanding of why the position is open and how the writer can help them hit the ground running with a new facility.
You will want to focus on establishing a connection between what you do and what the employer wants.
Don’t sell yourself short here. Provide powerful details about the skills you share. Lastly, avoid using clichés like, “I have excellent communication skills.” Prove it!
Once you have gained the Attention and Interest of the reader, you need to create a Desire for your employment. This will be your 3rd paragraph. First, determine the major points the employer is addressing in the job description. Then follow up with specific examples of how you have accomplished tasks related to those major points.
“As a Conductor for Norfolk Southern Railway, I work incredibly hard to always stay ahead of the game. My ability to be a self-starter has saved my supervisors time, saved the company money, increased my level of customer satisfaction, and helped to prevent safety concerns. I fought hard to prove myself, and all of this led to a promotion as Yardmaster. I have enjoyed my time as a Yardmaster, but I am ready for my next steps. I received my MBA in May 2017, and I would love the opportunity to utilize my new knowledge and skills with your company.”
You can also try a bulleted approach:
“An organization such as yours is often looking to increase social responsibility initiatives, plan awareness events, and create buy-in from fellow employees. In the past year as a Sustainability Coordinator I have:
- Brought in over 300lbs of plastic through an intense 2-month recycling initiative.
- Orchestrated several events leading to the implementation of 10 new e-charging stations throughout our parking garages.
- Planned a 3-day retreat for Green Team members to facilitate team building activities and create strategic plans for the year.
It is important to consider that employers will likely review your resume and cover letter together. It is okay for some things to be repeated to show applicability of your experience to the position, but try not to copy and paste much of the resume for the cover letter.
Now it’s time to seal the deal. You have captured the employer’s attention. You have maintained their interest. You have created a desire for your services. Now, you want to compel them to take Action to reach out to you! It can be helpful to wrap up your cover letter here. Then… Put the ball in their court. Provide options for contact. Be careful not to be too demanding.
“If there is one thing I know, it’s how to build brands from the ground up using digital marketing strategies. I would love the opportunity to discuss your needs in person, or over a phone call, to establish a mutual interest.”
Address the Elephant in the Room
Sometimes employers will wonder why you are applying for a job when you aren’t “qualified” on the surface-level or other red flags pop up. Instead of hiding it, address concerns with confidence.
Switching careers with little direct experience in the new career field?
- Use it as an attention-grabbing story & showcase your transferrable skills.
Applying for something you aren’t fully qualified for?
- Address it in the beginning & prove your worth.
Did you take a break from work to take care of your family or go back to school full-time?
- State it upfront & explain how it has prepared you. Present your most impressive previous work experience.
Think of your approach to writing the cover letter like you are a fisherman. If you cast your line randomly, you can still succeed. However, you are more likely to catch something if you know exactly where the fish are. Do some research and find out who will be reading your cover letter. As you start to reel in, you try to mimic the real moves of the lure. You start to get the attention of hungry fish (or recruiters who have to fulfill their clients’ needs). They may be a little skeptical, so you continue to tease the fish. Keep their interest and appeal to those needs. Then they bite! You have kept them engaged this long, and they have committed to at least a taste. You set the hook with your relevant experience. Then you reel them in with your call to action, and sign your name at the bottom!
Brett Ellis is a career coach, professional development speaker, and Generation-Z recruiting expert. He runs Brett Ellis Career Marketing Services as a professional career coach and career development speaker. Most of his career has been spent helping college students excel in school and through graduation into fulfilling careers. His clients and reach now span into multiple industries, age ranges, and geographic locations.