You’ve spent hours writing and re-writing (and re-writing, and re-writing) your resume. You’re ready to hit Submit and send in your application, but then it dawns on you at the last second that there’s a cover letter requirement. Eeek. You didn’t plan for this.
While there’s been debate as of late about whether or not recruiters and hiring managers still read cover letters, having one accompany your resume can never hurt (well, unless it’s poorly written—more on that soon). If a cover letter is a requirement of the job application, you must of course include one.
A well-composed cover letter can maximize your chances of snagging the job you’re after. The best ones provide additional insight into the skills and accomplishments on an applicant’s resume, bringing to life a more complete picture of who they are, and how they can help a company.
Beginning the writing of a cover letter is tough. In fact, the most difficult part of writing one is usually the getting-going part. Here are some tips for a successful, easy launch into the two toughest parts of a cover letter—the opening and body paragraph(s).
First things first: Get to know the company.
Proving you know the basics about the company you’re applying to is of critical importance when it comes to writing a successful cover letter. Before getting into the nitty-gritty of writing about how you’d be awesome in the role, research the company. Check out the About section of their official site. Do a Google News search using their name. Aim to get a grasp on company culture via Glassdoor. Research the company’s top brass through LinkedIn. When you’re armed with information about the company and its goals, you can then you align your goals to theirs, and write—rather comfortably—about how you can help them succeed. Also—learning about the company in advance of writing the cover letter can aid you greatly when figuring out the tone your letter should employ.
Begin with a Bang!
Your opening paragraph needs to grab the reader’s attention immediately, and make them want to read on. You can’t afford to be boring here, so instead of writing something along the lines of “I’m writing to express interest in x position at z company,” try for something that’s a bit more memorable and commanding, and that touches on skills and accomplishments from past or present positions that tie to the requirements of the job you’re applying for. Something like:
“I was thrilled to learn about EduTain’s open Senior Content Editor position, for the company’s mission is one I feel passionately about, and the role, one I feel well-suited for. With a background firmly rooted in writing, editing, and proof-reading, I feel more than ready to step up into a senior role, and play a pivotal part in the production of fun yet educational content for the website’s 15 million readers.”
Thank your lucky STAR.
When you get into writing about your accomplishments and skills in the body paragraph(s), put STAR to work. What’s that, you might ask? STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result. STAR can help you go far with avoiding this cover letter cardinal sin: regurgitating everything that is on your resume (and here’s a pro tip: if you’re still struggling with perfecting your resume, consider putting a resume builder to use). While you do need to write about the experiences on your resume, you need to write about them in a way that elaborates on, and deepens, your relevant experiences. This is where STAR comes into play.
- Your situation provides the overall context. Example: “For the past two years I’ve worked as a content editor at a leading lifestyle blog based in San Francisco.”
- Then, go into a task – what were you given to do in the previous role?
- The beefiest section is the action—how you went about completing the task. This is where you write about how you applied your masterful hard and soft skills to the task at hand.
- You close your STAR story with the result—the quantifiable or tangible difference that you made.
Remember to put STAR to work on an accomplishment or task from a current or previous position that ties to the requirements of the job you’re going after. Don’t tell a STAR story that has no relation to the position you’re going after! You need to make a strong, concise case for why you’re the best person for the job, and you don’t have a lot of space to do it (no cover letter should be more than one page). So make sure the content of your opening and body paragraph(s) are tight, focused, and related to how your past and current professional experiences will help the company succeed. And if you get stuck (like, really stuck), consider using a cover letter builder to help you get the job done!