Q: Do I need a cover letter? A: How badly do you want the job?
A three-step guide to a stellar cover letter
Job seekers are constantly trying to kill the cover letter. And they can find supporting evidence for this argument — cover letters aren’t fun to write and most people submit terrible (or at least boring) cover letters — which means they aren’t fun to read. Hiring managers get 100's of applications; are they really going to take time to read all the cover letters?
Resumes contain all the practical information you need and cover letters are ‘extra’, but that is exactly why they are so powerful. Cover letters are your chance to share your story, connecting the dots between your skills and experience and the job. You can spell out why the role makes sense for you, what you bring to the position and team, and how your values and the company values and culture align.
Stories are memorable and they are how we create an emotional connection. Your resume shares essential information about your qualifications, but the cover letter takes this a step further by painting a narrative picture of who you are and why they should hire you.
Not all jobs warrant the time and energy of a cover letter. But if you feel a connection to the role, take the extra time and share that in your cover letter. Good cover letters demand attention; they leave the recruiter and hiring manager with a sense of wanting to learn more about you and create the emotional pull that moves you on to the interview stage.
All that said, cover letters are a bear to write. Follow the 1–2–3 step formula below for a solid start to your stellar cover letter.
1.) Start Strong & Simple.
Keep the first paragraph short and focused on who you are and why are you applying. Now, there is a right way and boring way to answer this (see below).
Example 1 (boring way):
My name is Rebecca Andersen and I am currently a graduate student at UC Berkeley. I am a former software engineer and my focus for graduate school is product management and data analytics. The Uber product management internship is the perfect next step for my skill set and degree.
Example 2 (right way!):
I am a problem solver. Maybe because of my background in cognitive science (studying how people think) and engineering (building products for real people), I cannot help but notice pain points and how products can address them to make the world better. I’m experienced in building products and leading teams and would like to take my penchant for problem-solving to the Uber product team, in the PM Internship role.
Note how the second example has personality and shares details that are not necessarily found in the resume. It speaks to who the applicant is and creates a connection between them and the role.
2.) Show exactly how you are a good fit (spell it out).
The second paragraph is your opportunity to talk more about your connection to the product or company mission. Your goal is to showcase ways in which you add value, answering the question ‘how will hiring you be a great decision?’ Feel free to expand upon a project or significant experience from your resume, just be sure you are sharing relevant (and interesting) information.
Are you a job changer? The second paragraph is your chance to speak directly about how your past experience as a X means you will be a great Y.
As a high school educator, I designed engaging lesson plans which were tailored to a diverse set of learning needs and outcomes. In many ways, this experience was a form of ‘bootcamp’ for my new career as a user experience designer. I know the difference it makes to design from a place of empathy and speak to unique user needs and goals…..
3.) Lastly, know when to stop.
Cover letters are important, but they are only an introduction. Think of them like the back page of a book, providing a highlighted preview of things to come. Your last paragraph in the cover letter should be short, reiterating your interest, and thanking the readers for their time.
Slack connects people, and I believe that data connects people as well. Data can tell stories, create empathy, and highlight problems and solutions for real people. I’m excited for the chance to become a data storyteller at Slack. Thank you for your time and I’m looking forward to connecting with your team!
Do not waste the opportunity to tell your story! Make clear your connection to the company, how you bring value to the role, and take a moment to clear questions or hesitations they may have in hiring you. Showcase your authentic personal brand through your cover letter stories and open the possibility of them recognizing how you are a great match.