Many job seekers assume writing a cover letter is a waste of their time. I've been told, "nobody reads it." That's actually not true. Hiring managers usually open the cover letter and glance at it, BUT the moment they realize it's a boring regurgitation of your resume, they stop reading. While there are a host of things that make recruiters cringe when reading cover letters, it's when you start going on and on about all your accomplishments that makes them toss it.
So, what should go in your cover letter?
One of the biggest trends in cover letters right now is the concept of "disrupting" the reader. When you surprise them, or as we like to say, get them at "hello," you create a connection that sparks greater interest in you as a candidate. In the marketing world, this technique is called "storytelling." And, it's how companies get us to go from knowing nothing about them, to falling in love with them.
Tell them about a time when...
At my company, we offer cover letter reviews as part of our service. We literally read hundreds of cover letters each week, offering advice on how to tweak them to be more disruptive. More than a few of our members deal with initial writer's block. So, when our clients are stumped on what to write, I tell them to do the following:
1. Identify what the company does that is different, special, and unique.
2. Think about the job you are applying for and how you've come to learn its importance.
3. Ask yourself what life experiences have taught you how the work the company does makes a difference.
When you find the answers to the questions above, you can start to connect the dots between your values and beliefs and those of the employer. This is the story you should tell. This is the story they really want to hear.
Example: "Your hospital equipment made my grandma's final days peaceful."
Let me give you an example of how this works...
One of our members want to apply for a business development role at a medical equipment supplier. When I asked him the questions above, he shared a moving story about his grandmother's final days of life in the local hospital. Several of the pieces of equipment in her room had the logo of the company on it. So, in his cover letter, he shared this story and how he knew their products made a difference in the lives of the patients AND the loved ones watching them suffer. By showcasing his personal connection to the mission of the company, he proved he'd be a good candidate for the role. (In case you're wondering, yes, he got the interview.)
P.S. - It helps to get the cover letter in someone's hands.
While this storytelling technique can improve the chances you get an interview, it doesn't help you get through the company's online ATS. That's why if you take the time to write one, you should also go the extra step and do what you can to network into the company so you can get your disruptive cover letter in someone's hands. Or, at least directly in their email inbox. ATS systems are designed to weed you out and have no way to tell a good cover letter from a lousy one. Besides, with most jobs being gotten via referral today, it's in your best interest to go around the online system and try to get your credentials to a human being!