A Quick Guide to Writing a Cover Letter
How to write a cover letter you can feel good about in 30 minutes
This is borrowed from Jeremy Schifeling’s advice in his concise publication Get It Done: Write a Cover Letter, which you should probably buy and read if you plan to write more than one of these. The Kindle version is less than $5 and worth its weight in gold.
Before you start
Make sure the company wants a cover letter. Look through the application and make sure there is a place to upload it before you write it.
Think about the 3–5 things that make you a unique candidate. What sets you apart from other people applying for the same role. Write out these talking points. (You can use them in your interviews, too.)
Proofreading is essential. Find a person to proofread this or use an app like Grammarly to check your work. Our human brains ignore typos, and everyone makes typos, especially if you are fatigued or stressed out because you are searching for a job.
IMHO never send a form letter. I know it’s tempting to write one letter about why you are a great marketer and just switch out the role and company name. First, it’s too easy to forget to switch out the company name, and second hiring folks can sniff these out a mile away. Nothing says, don’t hire me like announcing “I put zero effort into this application” with a form letter.
Writing the letter
Since most companies are using applicant tracking systems that will suck in the text of the cover letter and present it to the reader on a portal inside the application, don’t bother with your address or the recipient’s address. Put the date at the top and use very simple text formatting. For a more formal industry, like a legal job, however, perhaps a proper formal letter heading is the way to go.
Greetings [COMPANY NAME],
Paragraph one tries to explain why I want to work for this specific company.
This looks like one of the following:
- A story about using the product including sensory details. For instance, “I remember walking through the mall as a child, and being overcome with the warm delicious smell of cinnamon buns. It reminded me of my grandmother’s cinnamon buns, fresh out of the oven. I knew one day, I would want to follow in her footsteps, and this passion for cinnamon rolls is what inspires me to apply to the Product Marketing role at Cinnabon.”
- Name dropping an employee, “After speaking to George Elliot about Cinnabon’s best-in-class bakery, culture of learning and the smart, ambitious people who work there, I decided to apply for the Product Marketing role at Cinnabon.” (Note the shameless flattery.)
- Direct route, “After working in the baked goods industry for five years, I am seeking a role with additional responsibility in the breakfast sector at growing cinnamon bun companies like Cinnabon. My experience in baking, marketing and frosting taste-testing are a good match for the Product Marketing role on your team.” (The most specific here, the better.)
Paragraph two tries to explain why I am a good match for the role and company, particularly as it relates to the culture. I’m both trying to demonstrate my credentials and the fact that I Googled their website and have some familiarity with the organization.
- For example, “What sets me apart from other smart, ambitious applicants is that I would be a great match for the Cinnabon culture. For instance, after working in growing startups like Lyft, I am well suited to the fast-paced world at startups. Furthermore, like Cinnabon, I also value teamwork and putting the customer first.” Google the company and read their “culture” page to find their values.
- Then I sprinkle in my talking points, which are for me my startup creds, background in journalism, and ability to analyze data — or whatever it is based on that role.
- Finally, try to put some numbers in, “At XYZ startup, I grew our teacher recruitment from 10 people total to on boarding 200 teachers a week in 3 months.” Numbers can also include percentages “doubled our Facebook view” or if something was the “first” like “made the first marketing plan.” I also take the team’s numbers, like, “our business unit grew from 140MM to 300MM in two years.”
Paragraph 3 connects the dots for the reader.
- Usually I open up a table and pick 3–5 things from the job requirement section of the job description and then on the other side of the table, I copy and paste something from my resume that matches that requirement. It looks like this:
Sometimes, I call out “No’s” where my experience does not match with the job description. For example, “No-I don’t have 15 years of experience as a journalist, but I do have 10 years of experience as a copywriter and editor in a business setting.” Ironically, I’ve received many call backs from the cover letters that are very honest, because I think it establishes trust.
Paragraph 4 wrap up and sign off.
- Thank you for considering my application. You can view my portfolio website at janeisamazing.com. I Iook forward to learning more about the role.