How to Write a Cover Letter in Under 20 Minutes
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One of my most hated phrases? "Attach a cover letter."
If you’re job searching, you probably already have your resume down pat (if not, this is helpful!) But I absolutely hate the added step of crafting a unique cover letter for every job I apply for. I get why companies do it -- it’s a way to see you as a candidate rather than a piece of paper, and tells them why you want this job. But for a candidate, it’s an absolute pain (especially if you’re, let’s be real, applying for every job you remotely qualify for.)
I want to help you demystify the cover letter, and help you use a template you create to customize every one so you’re not starting from scratch. Here’s a simple formula for a one page cover letter that will make you stand out.
Say hi, tell them the job you’re applying for, and let them know you’re excited about it for X reason. Address it to the hiring manager, the team head, or just “XCompany team.”
Here’s a real sample from a recent cover letter I wrote:
“Dear MoPOP team,
I am thrilled to submit my application for the Social Media Manager position at MoPOP! As a native Washingtonian, I have been visiting the MoPOP museum since I was a kid -- and can say without a doubt that the museum was and is my favorite in the world.”
Talk about what you do -- your job title and general skills as they relate to that position. This should be your opening into more specifics about your previous experience.
Example from my cover letter:
“As a social media marketer, I’ve developed, executed, and analyzed digital campaigns for global organizations. As a team of one digital marketer, I oversee and create all content (copy, photos, design), and use social media to build community online. I understand social strategy and how to promote content -- connecting with people online and making them excited about a brand is my favorite part about digital marketing.”
Time to discuss why you’re the best fit for the job. Detail your experience, and mention your skills as they relate to the job description.
Every paragraph should have a theme: a skill, a company you’ve worked at previously, etc. This gives the core of your cover letter structure, as opposed to it feeling scattered and unfocused. Use concrete “wins” as examples why you’re awesome (aim for percentages or growth numbers.)
“At Security Industry Specialists, I was the head of marketing and communications (our clients include Amazon, Apple, Nike, the NFL, and the Academy Awards.) For a company of over 5,000 individuals, I was the sole marketing, communications, and PR employee. Using social media and our corporate blog, I engaged with our part-time and temporary employees to celebrate their accomplishments and make them feel like part of the SIS family. With campaigns like, “SIS Snapshots” -- a social giveaway that showcased information about the company, its employees, and its mission -- I was able to single-handedly grow our followers from 100 to 16,000 in a year.
In addition to my marketing work with Security Industry Specialists, I operate my own freelance marketing and writing business. My biggest freelance client to date, I lead social media and rebranding efforts for ad:tech, the world’s largest marketing conference. I promoted the event, shared press releases, and grew their audience. In addition, I was on-site during the conference live-updating their 30k followers with news, photos, and quotes from talks. The hashtag I developed “#ADTECH16” trended on Twitter for 5 hours.
Along with my business, I run my personal blog aimed at ambitious millennial women -- this has been my favorite community I’ve built. Women from all over the globe have joined the Victori tribe, and connect with each other to share their career dreams, financial goals, and travel plans. My work has been featured on The Financial Diet, The Mentor Method, BPlans Blog, She is Fierce, GenTwenty, and more. I also collaborate with other female finance and career bloggers to create content, share updates, and cheer one another on.”
Talk about the company. Focus on them, and why you believe in their mission. This is without a doubt the most important paragraph -- you’ve talked about yourself for awhile, and you want to demonstrate what you can do for them. Get touchy feely here. Show them you’ve done your research and make them believe you’re passionate.
Example (notice how I take my personal experience interacting with the organization and use it to tell a story):
“I’ve jammed out to Joan Jett and acted like I was in a rock band. I’ve marveled at the Star Wars memorabilia, and even attended the closing party for the costume exhibit in my R2-D2 jumpsuit. It has been a dream of mine to work for the museum that I adore, and to tell their story to the Seattle community through social media.”
Lastly, a send off like “thank you so much for your time and I can’t wait to hear from you!” and then your signature. Boom: a one page cover letter!
A few quick tips:
Because most cover letters are viewed digitally, link directly to work samples and your portfolio in the document.
Put your contact info in the header of the document to save space.
If you have theme colors/design with your resume, try to tie those into your cover letter for a cohesive product.