Originally posted on Forbes.
If you’ve ever assumed that cover letters are dead, you’re sort of right—90% of hiring managers don’t read cover letters.
However, 53% of employers prefer a candidate that has submitted one.
This might sound counter-intuitive, but it means one important thing: they don’t get read often, but they are positively acknowledged.
This means you still must write a cover letter because it could be a deciding factor as to whether you’ll be hired, as it becomes particularly vital when the company is wavering on your application. It would be a shame to make it to the final round of employees only for this simple sheet of paper to ruin your chances.
As a career coach who helps clients on the job hunt, I have read enough cover letters to fill an encyclopedia. Most letters have revealed to me that the intention of a cover letter is often misunderstood and the content crafted wasn’t helping showcase my client’s talents.
Yes, the format and overall look of your cover letter matter, but the content will be the deciding factor that sets your letter apart.
Incorporate these 4 concepts into a cover letter so you’re no longer falling into the recycle bin:
1. Emphasis the experiences that matter most.
Resist the urge to word-vomit your entire resume into the cover letter or dive into long stories on every job you have ever had. This will become crowded, confusing and (unfortunately) boring for the hiring manager.
Instead, consider what experiences you have that are relevant to the job you are seeking. Place emphasis specifically on these experiences or accomplishments to showcase who you are and what you have to offer. Show your power and accomplishments in a light that reveals what they can do specifically for the company you are applying to work for. You want them to envision you working there and making an immediate impact.
2. Don’t overshare.
No one wants to read about something they would rather not know about.
A cover letter is not the time or place to go into why you got laid off or fired from your last job. And if you moved to a new city due to a breakup or family matter, consider keeping that to yourself. This is a professional letter, not a diary entry. Sure, you may be trying to explain what happened in support of your past, but this will only draw a spotlight on an insecurity and raise doubt with the employer.
Don’t be a corporate fangirl. Don’t waste too much time explaining how excited you are about the opportunity to even apply for the company. If you go there in your letter, be sure to explain something that shows specifically why. While 91% of employers agree that an applicant whose cover letter shows they’ve done their research on the company will receive greater consideration, that doesn’t mean sharing a long list of the things you admire about the company.
Use your letter to explain how you would serve them, not why you love them.
3. Showcase creativity in your writing.
There is nothing worse than picking up the 20th cover letter that begins with the phrase, “My name is Ashley Stahl, and I’m applying for the…” and continuing on to say “I am a perfect candidate for this position because…”
Sure, you need to introduce yourself… but don’t follow the cookie-cutter version of an automated letter. Write experiences that highlight the results and impact you’ve made in your job and weave in some personality, with professionalism, of course. Consider a statement about what brings passion into your work or a short two-sentence story that led you to this career and industry. Emotion moves a reader, and science has proven that an emotional image increases memory, and you want to be remembered by an employer. From here, share your accomplishments and big wins. They will see how your purpose drives your actions.
When it comes to describing yourself, in a cover letter or in an interview, ban the stereotypical descriptors of “being a team player” or “hardworking.” Because let’s be honest, everyone thinks they are a hard-working team player. Instead of telling them that about you, show them it! That means being aware of different examples in your work memory that demonstrate your ability to be the word you say you are. Go a level deeper and ask yourself, what makes you a great team player and in what way are you hardworking. The answers will set you apart from the rest.
4. Make the conclusion count.
End the letter by listing your two key strengths and how they’ll serve the company. Include your contact information both at the top of your cover letter and in the closing, and make sure it is visible. Nothing is worse than the person wanting to reach out, and having to put in leg work to find how they can get ahold of you.
Just as you wouldn’t give a first date your best friend and parents’ phone numbers, wait to share everything with a potential employer. A cover letter is not the place to provide references; wait for the employer to request them.
Even if you agree that the cover letter is dying, you still want to be ready to land that new job you love.
Take the time upfront to incorporate these tips into your cover letter, and the next time it comes down to the wire, rest assured that you have done everything possible to make yourself the candidate an employer hires.
Now get writing!
Ashley Stahl helps job seekers find their purpose, land more job offers and launch their dream businesses. Sign up here for her free jumpstart course on how to land a new job you love.