How to Write a Cover Letter That Actually Gets Read
Cover letters are one of the most misunderstood and underutilized element of the marketing job hunt process. Use these tips to create a cover letter that stands out from the crowd to increase your odds of getting an interview.
By JR BLASZEK
The cover letter is one of the biggest mysteries in the job hunting process. In my experience, so many questions run through my mind as I’m writing a cover letter:
“What do they expect?”
“Is this what they’re looking for?”
“Are they even going to read this?”
There is usually so much emphasis placed on the resume that marketing candidates often forget that a cover letter is another important piece of the overall application. To be 100% honest, many times cover letters do actually go unread. But that’s not to say that you should just forget about it. I have seen, in more than one instance, a candidate getting a call for an interview based solely on an interesting cover letter. So the point is that you just never know. It’s better to write an amazing cover letter that doesn’t get read than to submit a terrible cover letter that you think will never be seen.
But what makes a cover letter unique enough to stand out from the crowd?
The reality is that it isn’t tough to stand out from the group. The vast majority of cover letters are actually pretty bad. Candidates usually don’t know how to write them or even what to write about. We’re taking the mystery out this process so you can submit a cover letter that’s actually worth reading!
Know your audience
The first step to writing a good letter is to know who you’re writing it for. Make sure when you address your cover letter, you address it to a person. Most job positions list the hiring manager somewhere in the job posting, so make sure you address the cover letter to that individual. When you simply put “Dear Sir or Madam”, you aren’t making the letter personal. You want to create a connection between you and the person reading it. If you don’t take the time to find out who will be reading your cover letter, you can almost guarantee that it won’t be read by anybody.
Get to the point
Remember, marketers are extremely busy. They don’t have a ton of time to read through every cover letter to figure out what you have to say. You need to make an impact early in your cover letter. Usually, there are three questions that you need to answer in the 1st paragraph of your cover letter.
Who are you?
What do you want?
Why should we listen to you?
Here’s an example of how you can accomplish this in the 1st paragraph:
Dear [Hiring Manager],
My name is John Doe and as a junior in the Awesome Business School Program pursuing a bachelor’s degree in business with an emphasis in Marketing, I am excited to apply for the Marketing Intern position at [XYZ Company].
There it is…in one sentence!
Who are you?
What do you want?
To apply for the Marketing Intern position at [Company]
Why should we listen to you?
I’m a junior at Awesome Business School pursuing a degree in marketing.
Anything you can do to increase your odds of getting a call for an interview, do it! If you’ve done informational interviews, networking, or know somebody who works at the company make sure you acknowledge that in your cover letter. Make sure that if you do drop a name, however, that the person who you reference will actually remember you. The first thing I do when I read a cover letter that references one of my colleagues is to that person’s opinion about the candidate. If you haven’t made a good connection, don’t drop a name.
Also, if you are dropping names, make sure you do it in the 1st paragraph as well. I want to know that you’ve done your research and talked to people. If you have names to drop, do it early and we’ll want to keep reading.
Here is a great name dropping example:
A week before the [Company] corporate presentation I spoke with [employee], a current employee of the XYZ Division, about his positive experiences working for [Company]. Furthermore, I received career advice from [employee 2] and discussed new product ideas and demographic market trends with [employee 3]. The connections I established with these people and the ownership associated with the Marketing Intern position drew me to [Company].
In case you were wondering, WIIFM stands for ‘What’s In It For Me?’
Above anything else, you need to remember that your cover letter is not necessarily to place for you to brag about your accomplishments (that’s what your resume is for). Instead, the cover letter should illustrate why you are the best person for the job and the value that you will add to the organization.
Up until this point, we’ve been working solely in the opening paragraph (call it the introduction). The next 2-3 paragraphs are where you will sell yourself to the company. The best way to do this is to look at the job description of the position you are applying for and create 2-3 “mini-stories” that exemplify how you meet the company’s demands.
Each paragraph should be 3-4 sentences and clearly illustrate the point you are trying to make.
Here is an example of a paragraph where the company was looking for a marketing intern who was an analytical leader and problem-solver:
As a 2011 summer intern for [Company], I experienced the marketing, selling, and operations management aspects of a Fortune 500 company. I collaborated to design a grassroots marketing campaign to drive sales and increase brand awareness by targeting the Do-It-Yourself market segment and analyzing inventory turnover rates.
ABC…Always Be Closing
The final paragraph of your cover letter is critical. If anything, as a marketing professional I tend to read the first paragraph and the last paragraph of a candidate’s cover letter. If they’re interesting, I might go back and read the middle. It’s just the way my mind has been trained.
So in the last paragraph of your cover letter, you need to clearly state what you hope to achieve with the letter. Do you want a job interview? Ask for it. Do you want to talk about further opportunities? Ask for the time! Make sure you wrap up your cover letter with a clear ask. If you don’t, a recruiter will likely wonder what it is that you really want.
Here’s a good example of a strong closing paragraph in a cover letter:
In addition to my creativity and refined analytical skills, my personal goals align with Company XYZ’s values of sustained growth and performance with purpose. As a leader and creative thinker I am confident that I could be an asset as a Marketing Intern and look forward to speaking with you in the future. Please contact me by phone at 123-456-7890 or email at (email address). Thank you for your time.
Just as in your resume, you need to realize that the paper you’re printing on is precious real estate. You need to maximize every square inch, but you should not make it too long. When writing your cover letter, you should keep it to 1 page MAXIMUM! Most marketing professionals will not have time to read your whole cover letter, let alone 5 pages. If you send in a multi-page cover letter it’s very possible that the hiring manager will send your entire file into the “better luck next time” bin.
Here’s a good guideline to follow as you’re planning out your cover letter:
Paragraph 1: Introduction
Who are you? What do you want? Why should we listen to you?
Paragraph 2-4: Sales Pitch
What can you bring to the table? Use specific instances from your past that match key requirements from the job description.
Paragraph 5: The Close
Summarize your letter. Ask for an interview. Give your contact information and the best way to get in touch with you. Say thank you!
Well there you have it. The secrets to getting your marketing cover letter read, and remembered, are yours for the taking. If you still have questions or want some extra feedback, schedule a cover letter consultation today. We are happy to help edit, critique, and enhance your cover letter.
Let us know your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!