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Leadership Now

3 Secrets Of Writing Attention-Grabbing Cover Letters

Robots consume resumes; humans read cover letters—although if yours sucks, they'll chuck it after a few seconds. Here's how to write one they'll remember, and that might get you a job.

Whether resumes are gobbled up by robots or scanned by recruiters (for all of six seconds), a cover letter should demand more than a passing glance—if you know how to write it well.

Here's how.

Don't annoy the reader

Just as there are plenty of reasons your resume gets chucked, cover letters are typically equally trash-able. As David Silverman once noted for HBR, bad cover letters come in three varieties:

  • Recap: A resume, now with paragraphs!
  • Formula: A form letter or template you send to everybody.
  • Confessional: An attempt to explain why your resume is so weird.

The first two are toxic and lazy; the third is understandable. Especially if, for instance, you spent three years abroad instead of scrambling for pennies during a recession, as this writer did. (Full disclosure: I tell potential employers that my travels helped me to see multiple perspectives or something like that; they seem to like it. Fingers crossed.)

Know when to send a cover letter

Silverman says that you should only use a cover letter if you know the name of the person doing the hiring—it's not Sir or Madame—or if you know the job requirements well. He says they're also good if you've been personally referred. Since companies are mostly hiring through internal referrals, that's probably the case—though it's not good for the economy or innovation.

Don't be boring

How do you ensure your reader's eyes don't glaze over? Like Cara Aley at Brazen Careerist writes, you can use the cover letter to show your employer-crush why your experience is just right for the job description. Do not, do not, do not let it look like a template. Would you hire someone who sent you a template? No. So don't send one.

Also, Aley advises to be confident in your writing. This doesn't mean that you spill over with humblebrags; it does mean that you sign off with a "I look forward to hearing from you" rather than "I hope to hear from you." You're qualified, so act like it.

Fitting in is part of being qualified. You need to show you're party to their cohort—even if it means taking a chainsaw to an owl. When companies say "finding cultural alignment," they're really talking about whether or not you have the same personality type. Consciously or not, firms replicate themselves. Getting angry at this fact is like getting angry at the weather.

And more than anything else, write something they would want to read. Don't overwrite. And study your Elements of Style.

Think you know what makes for a good cover letter? Is there one you'll always remember receiving? Tell us about it in the comments.

Your Guide to Writing an Eye-Catching Cover Letter

[Image: Flickr user Thomas Leth-Olsen]

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