As many of you have probably experienced, cover letters bring fear into the hearts of most job seekers. People who can write eloquently on any subject given suddenly freeze up when they have to write a few paragraphs about themselves. The old “I don’t know what to say!” phrase comes out and people get paralyzed I would say that the reason for this is people don’t know the purpose of what they are writing and why.

As I’ve written before, a resume’s job is to speak for you when you’re not around to speak for yourself and to show you’re a professional in your field. It’s like an advertisement for you, just like any other company would have an advertisement for a product. A cover letter is your opportunity to show that you are a good match for this organization and to highlight your writing skills. A resume is your advertisement and your cover letter is trying to close the deal of getting you in the door to demonstrate to them that you’re the best candidate.

I like to say that a cover letter should answer three questions:

  1. Why am I interested in your company? 99% of all cover letters start with some version of “I saw your ad and I’m perfect for this job.” it might be dressed up in different language, but it’s the same blah, blah, blah. Can you show you’re different? Why is this particular organization interesting? Do you know anything about the product or initiatives they’ve completed? Can you mention any people that work there that know you? How does this fit into your career path? Give them something to show you e done done homework and this isn’t the 17th of 32 cover letters you’re writing today.
  2. Why Should They Be Interested In You? The hiring managers want to know that you’ve already got the skills, knowledge, and experience they need. What are the stories of your past experiences that show them that? Choose two or three and tell them in a way that connects your experiences with their needs.
  3. We’re A Great Match! We Should Talk! What’s Next? You made the match, now ask for the interview.  Most people say something to the effect of “I’ll be sitting here in the dark until you get back to me.”  You need to say you’re looking forward to speaking with them about the opportunity, or something to that effect.  Also make sure you include all the ways that they can get in touch with you (e.g. phone, email, Skype, etc.)  Also, if you are looking in another city, you can say “If it is convenient, I will be in New York City from March 12-19 and available for interviews”, so that they don’t have to ask you when you’re available.

So, how are you selling yourself?

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