The cover letter remains a critical component of a successful job search despite what you may hear anecdotally. It may be true, however, that a great cover letter will not win you an interview or be the defining factor in getting you the job you want, but it is certainly true that a terribly written or bland cover may earn you an instant rejection from a recruiter or HR representative. Achieving success in your job search is about catching a potential employer’s eye while minimizing your risk. To that end, here are four cover letter strategies that will get you noticed.
- Strategic Name Dropping. Employers gauge your level of interest by the amount of networking you’ve done to learn about their company’s culture, product, and strategy. In the first paragraph of your cover letter after you’ve grabbed your reader’s attention with a hard-hitting description of your value proposition, make sure to call out the people you’ve talked to throughout the recruiting process and those of whom you’ve had positive interactions to maximize the odds that they vouch for, and support your candidacy.
- Format for read- and scan-ability. This is all about risk management here. You have to assume, when compiling a cover letter that it will be read and that it will be read thoroughly. Of course, we know that in reality, it’s possible that it might not be read at all with the more likely outcome being a cursory review. Hence, it is imperative that you present a format that can be easily scanned and read. I encourage a maximum of four paragraphs or sections comprised of an introduction, summary of your current role or status, achievements section (3-4 action-driven bullet points), and a concluding summary with your contact information. That’s all you really need to get your point across clearly.
- Emphasize quantifiable achievements. To the extent that you can mention clear, objective results and what you did to contribute, do it. In your achievements section (what I recommend being your third paragraph or section in your cover letter, it is far more effective to say “I generated a $100M increase in sales twelve months into my job” rather than “I am a strong performer with a proven track record of success.”
- Only use the active voice. I am astounded by the prevalence of the passive voice in the cover letters I am asked to review, edit, and re-write by my high-ranking executive clients. The passive voice happens everywhere, and it shouldn’t. Avoid it completely unless absolutely and grammatically necessary in the present perfect or continuous tense where it reflects fact. The passive voice reflects a less sophisticated and frankly lazy writing style. Simply sticking with the active voice will be sure to get you noticed as your reader will be impressed with your completeness and attention to detail.