For the third year in a row, Bustle's Upstart Awards are honoring young women who are doing incredible things in the realms of business, STEM, fashion and beauty, the arts, philanthropy, and beyond. Want to be an Upstarts honoree one day? Read on for career tips, insights, and inspiration to help get you there.
No one ever opened their computer and said, “Yes! I’m so pumped to write a cover letter today!” Those one-page summaries of all of your best qualities and why your dream job should hire you are hella intimidating. But, unfortunately, despite the many, many changes in the way we work that have rolled out in recent years, it looks like the cover letter is here to stay. And since it’s often the first thing that your potential future employer learns about you, it’s pretty important to get it right.
Alexandra Finkel, Editorial Operations Director for Bustle, says that her number one tip for making sure your cover letter gets noticed is all about personalization. “The most important thing about a cover letter is that it applies to both the job and the company that you’re applying to,” Finkel says. “I really use the cover letter as an integral part of the application process when evaluating a candidate. I can tell really quickly whether a cover letter is personalized and whether it’s a copy/paste job.”
So, step one: Don’t copy and paste. For steps two, three, four, and five, keep reading what these five HR professionals recommend if you’re trying to write the perfect cover letter.
"The perfect cover letter is succinct and highlights exactly how the individual meets the requirements of the role. It is limited to one page (not crammed full of information) and doesn't cover everything that the resume already does. It is there to introduce yourself, and give the hiring manager a sense of who you are, how you view the position you're applying for, and how you can contribute to it.
HR managers spend very little time initially reviewing cover letters and resumes, and often the cover letter is barely glanced at before moving on to the resume to see if the individual meets the minimum qualifications. Bullet points in the middle of the cover letter, noting what you bring to the position, are a great idea because they catch the reader's eye. This is where you should highlight your main skill set and tie it directly to the qualifications needed for the role.
Noting any accomplishments the company has achieved is also a great way to get their attention; it shows you are following the company's activities. Congratulate them on their most recent award, most recent acquisition, or a recent media piece. Tie that in with how you can help them continue to achieve success. For example, 'Your recent award for Community Giving is impressive, and strongly aligns with my core values of giving back. I have successfully guided other organizations in strengthening their community outreach initiatives, not only increasing brand recognition but also positively impacting internal employee engagement scores. I'd love to help (company) continue its momentum…' And don't forget to triple spell-check, and include your name and contact information on the cover letter (yes, it happens!)."
"I've looked at thousands of cover letters over my career and 95 percent+ are obviously canned templates that the candidate is tweaking only slightly and sending out to every job for which they are applying. This is why the best cover letters are those that are tailored to the company and position. Before writing your cover letter, make sure you understand what the position you are applying for entails and the mission of the company. Then, focus your cover letter on how your skills and experience match up to the position and why you would be a great fit for the company as a whole as well."
"First off, don’t use the same cover letter over and over. It's boring and they can tell when it’s been copied and pasted half a dozen times. Often the applicant can forget to check all of the details, and if it has details from another job it’s a surefire way to not get hired for the position. Second, make sure you customize it. For instance if you’re applying for a digital media executive position you’re going to want to talk about your experience with video. If you were a childhood TV star, you would want to put that in the cover letter. Make sure you are showing them a bit of your personality and why you’re the right fit for the position. It’s also a chance to ask for the interview. You can show your qualifications, such as: 'I’ve delivered xyz and I know I can do this for you as well' or 'I’ve exceeded X goals for the last five years, and could bring this success to your business.'
Make sure that any identifiers or skills you have that stand out are put in the cover letter. Have a little fun with it, but make sure the fun is tuned into the brand. For example, at we.moxie we want somebody who has moxie. If you’re applying at Johnson and Johnson you may want to tone it down a bit and make yourself more family-friendly. Pay attention to your audience, show personality, and make it one page in length, and make it relevant to the job when it’s all said and done."
"Do some research on who the cover letter should be directed to. While most cover letters say 'To Whom It May Concern,' I suggest that you look on LinkedIn to find the appropriate hiring manager or recruiter and customize the letter. By personalizing the letter, someone on the team is much more likely to read it. Share a little something about yourself; depending on the industry, the type of job, and the company, you can add some personality to a letter by saying something like 'I’ve been playing soccer my whole life, which culminated in playing collegiate soccer at a Division I University. This has fueled my desire to join a winning team.'
Because recruiters are busy all day reviewing profiles and resumes, cover letters might be a thing of the past for some companies. If you have a LinkedIn profile, you might spend some time coming up with a one-liner about who you are. For me, I call myself an Investor in People as opposed to saying something about my experience and skills."
"The most important piece of advice I have is to keep it concise (three to five paragraphs is ideal). If you have a portfolio or a website, include it. Do your very best to find out who to address in your cover letter. Do your research! If you know company A is hiring, go on LinkedIn and find out who you know at company A. If you have a first degree connection, reach out to them and find out who the recruiter is for that position. If you are a second degree connection, asked to be introduced to someone at the desired company and find out the name of the recruiter that way.
Ensure your sentences are to the point and that they express interest in the job. Write a few bullet points that tie your experience and how it is relevant to the current career opportunity."
There you have it: get personal, do your research, keep it concise — and don't forget to spell check a few times. Now go get 'em!