Don't Be Boring: How To Write A Cover Letter That Can Get You The Job

If you want to land a gig, you have to prove it on the page. Let's see how to do that by examining Slate editor Katherine Goldstein's hiring pain points.

"Many young people seem to have no idea how to apply for a job," laments Slate editor Katherine Goldstein.

Whenever an entry-level gig opens up, she's soon inundated by applications not only riddled with misspellings and typos, but more terrifyingly, "what appears to be a fundamental lack of understanding of how to sell oneself to a prospective employer."

Let's work on that lack of understanding on how people receive us (what is, in other words, the purest expression of our awesome personal brands. Your Klout score, we can see, gets superceded by the actual interactions that you have with someone who might hire you.

So what does that courting process look like?

It's all about the cover letter.

Resumes tend to blur together after the seven thousandth or so—the cover letter is your best shot at being singular.

Goldstein, herself a wordsmith, explains why:

Focus on the cover letter. It is not uncommon for me to get 100 applications for one spot, so I’m constantly looking for reasons not to advance a candidate to the interview round. Writing a good cover letter is your best shot at getting noticed. If I hate a cover letter, I won’t even look at the résumé.

And to get noticed, you only need to not be boring.

Don't sound ridiculously, clumsily stilted.

What's a guarantee to not being taken seriously? If you take yourself way too seriously: any opener like "With this statement, I declare my interest in the position you have advertised on your website" is to be avoided, Goldstein says; instead, just begin with a conversational yet confident "I'm excited to be writing you to apply..."

Then you can tell them how awesome you are. Like by showing why you're such a perfect fit.

Show that you've done your homework.

If people are applying to Slate, Goldstein says, they should be able to mention favorite writers and articles and brands within the brand. Would-be hires need to show that they know what they're getting into—and communicate that knowledge to their would-be bosses.

Show that you'll solve their problem.

You don't need to be Paul Graham to know that successful companies make stuff that people want—like their problems solved. So, as Goldstein says, applicants need to solve her problem, like hiring a good intern.

The task for the applicant, then, is to make the convincing case that you have the solution: Show that you have the track record to fit the responsibilities and make the life of the person who hired you way easier. This, by the way, is how Google does hiring. So if you can articulate your fit, the search will soon be over.

Hat tip: Slate

[Image: Flickr user Emily]

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10 Comments

  • Federico Montemurro

    Resumes and cover letters as SO DEAD. After 16 years in the advertising business; networking and "face to face resumes" are the ley.

  • Miley Cyrus's Twerk

    What about the fact that recent surveys show that only 7% of recruiters/hiring managers read Cover Letters? Yes, a good Cover Letter is a must if a Cover Letter is required for a position, otherwise there's a 7% chance that it will be actually read...

    I'm surprised the author does not mention this.

  • Dana Leavy-Detrick

    You always risk the chance that the cover letter won't be read, as hiring manager often bypass it and go straight to the resume. But the cover letter is still a good platform for connecting your skill/experience-based qualifications, with your personal & professional interests in that particular company or industry. That's a big piece too for career changers, getting over the lack of experience hurdle.  Cheers!

  • Curtis Champion

    As much as I love my current job, I don't plan on being here forever. I look forward to testing out some of the ideas I have for promoting myself and the value I can add to a company. I've got some pretty creative ideas that could work fantastically (or backfire horribly) and I'm anxious to execute on them. 

    I think the one major thing that applicants lack is -- enthusiasm! Most new applicants are dreading the creation and submission of their applications. No one likes to be shot down or criticized. That's why I would hope any employer would take the time to let some applicants, that may have just missed the mark, know where they went wrong and how they could improve. 

    Humble yet confident. Enthusiastic yet professional. All a balancing act to prove to your future employer that you know what your'e talking about.

  • jpeck

    I'd like to think I'm pretty awesome and have written some noteworthy cover letters that involve mermaids.  I'm a teacher.  I'll go with the "right" school hasn't yet discovered this outlier on... perhaps I missed the point.  :)

  • Rick Dacri

    I agree you should never be boring and most cover letters and resumes are just that. Candidates should focus on differentiating themselves, with less emphasis on tasks they performed and more of what they've accomplished. Where we disagree is the importance of the letter. While you read the letter and then determine whether to read the resume, many hiring managers (including me) read the resume and then decide whether to read the letter. Regardless, as you prescribe, do your homework, demonstrate that you have what it takes, and get the hiring manager's attention--and fast.

  • Isabel Suarez

    I agree 100% witth you: ¨less emphasis on tasks they performed and more of what they've accomplished¨ and detect what is the real problem or lack that company has and, threfore, how well you would fit in the job solving that problem your to be boss has. Even some others that could eventually show up

  • Adrian Miller

    This also holds true for business prospecting which I hold is very similar to getting a job. It's getting a client (same thing).  Both are difficult; painful really and one can just keep writing and writing and writing and writing and writing and writing and writing and writing etc etc etc etc