Cover letters are a key part of any application packet. They are your chance to get the attention of the hiring manager or to get automatically disqualified. We have three questions to ask yourself when crafting your cover letter:
Where is my experience relevant? A cover letter is like the blurb on the back of the book that makes you want to read it. Your résumé is the table of contents. A cover letter should not detail every way that you fit this job, but draw out a couple key points from your experience and connect the dots to the job duties.
Where are my values relevant? Cover letters are just as much about tone and personality as content. In addition to what you do, they should show how and why you do it. Why are you a good fit for this company? How do your passions echo their goals?
What is my competitive advantage? The hiring manager is reading a lot of cover letters. Yours shouldn’t just show that you want this job, but why this company should want you.
When in a job search, you will send out dozens of cover letters. That repetition is your enemy. The majority of cover-letter mistakes are a result of the repetition. These can be glaring—such as addressing your letter to the wrong company—or more subtle, like making minimal, perfunctory changes rather than bringing fresh energy and strategic eye to your cover letter. For that reason, we advocate that you follow the breakfast-frog approach with cover letters. Mark Twain once suggested, “Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.” The advice to tackle things you’d like to avoid when you are fresh is wise. When job-searching, make a practice of spending a very manageable amount of time (20–30 minutes) working on cover letters first thing every morning. If you need more time, spend another half-hour working on them right after lunch. This approach makes the task less daunting and yields sharper, more focused results.