Marketing yourself, using the cover letter

It’s entirely possible that cover letters are old-fashioned. I don’t honestly have a great idea how many recruiters actually take the time to read them. And – you never know what might make the difference for your candidacy, so it’s worth having a few versions of your cover letter that serve as an additional way of marketing yourself.

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Why? Because just as the résumé is a supporting document to help people understand what you bring to the table, the cover letter is a way to make it easy for people to understand why you want this particular job – and to work at this particular organization.

What I find in my recruiting work is that despite requesting cover letters that speak to these things, I most often receive truly generic pieces of writing, full of standard phrases like “I’m confident that my skills, abilities, and experience make me an outstanding candidate for this position.” (They don’t even bother to put the actual job title they’re applying for in the letter.)

And then other people don’t send a letter of any kind, even in the body of an email.

Take 10 minutes to customize your (1 page, max) letter to the position you’re applying for, and you will stand out in the pool of candidates.

This customization is simple:

1. Why this job? Write a few sentences about why this position is the next logical step in your career, and what you bring to this position from your previous career or role. Write in your own voice, not standard cover-letter-speak! What are you ready for? What specific example can you share about what you’ve done that applies to this job?

Especially for career-changers, your cover letter is the opportunity to explain why you’re changing careers, and how you’ve landed on this particular career path as a next step. It’s a chance to clarify why your background is valuable to what they do, and to this position.

2. Why this organization? Don’t just say “Your mission is inspiring.” Take the time to do a little research about who they are and what they do, what big things have been happening lately – and then write 2-3 sentences about why this is exciting to you. Connect it to your interests, your background, whatever is relevant – but make an authentic connection, not just pasting a sentence you found online.

From these steps, you can form a template cover letter that you can use for other job opportunities – as long as you make sure to write new content for those two key questions.

Take the time to write a letter that stands out – because the worst thing as a recruiter is getting a cover letter that literally has another organization’s name on it (and I’m guilty of sending one or two of those myself).

Slow down, and do it right. You will stand out.

(And as an added bonus, this thinking will help you prepare for an interview.)

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