Your Cover Letter Is a Hot Mess

It's not enough to send in a resume. Here's how to write a cover letter that will actually land you a job interview.

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May 9 2018, 3:48pm

Photo by nazdravie / Getty Images

Dear Job Applicant,

I’ve been trying to think of a nice way to say this, but there really isn’t one. Your cover letter (or lack thereof) is the reason why you didn't get an interview—and it’s a shame because candidates with otherwise less impressive resumes edged you out by getting this right.

If you want a job interview—which by the way is the only way to land the job—your number one goal is to convince me why you are a great fit. And unless the previous work experience listed on your resume is a perfect match for this role, you'll need a great cover letter. Skip this step, and I will click “reject” and move on to the 67 other people who also applied for the job.

A cover letter does not need to be an elaborate affair. Anything longer than a page and my eyes start to glaze over. It also makes me wonder if you’re the kind of person who goes on and on about themselves instead of listening to what other people have to say—a big red flag since I am the one who is going to be stuck training you.

So if you want to impress me, keep it short and snappy and follow these three rules:

  • Always say the specific job you are applying for. Too many cover letters I read say “I believe I am the perfect candidate for this position” but fail to state what exactly that position is. Leaving that detail off tells me that you used the spray and pray approach to finding a job and aren’t really interested in this particular role. If I hire you, we are going to be spending a lot of time together, and I don't want to be working closely with someone who doesn't give a fuck. This small detail shows me you care enough to at least figure out what the job is.
  • Tell me about yourself, briefly. Please do not include four paragraphs on your summer internship on a cattle ranch in Wyoming or why you love hip hop. If that is truly relevant to the position you are applying for, a sentence or two is plenty. Maybe three. Then move on.
  • Explain why you are a good fit for this position. The ideal candidate has both related experience and can convey excitement for the job. If you're a little light on experience, explain why whatever else you’ve been doing with your life makes you a good fit in terms of transferable skills. For example, if you're applying for a customer service role but have only done babysitting, talk about how well you work with different personalities. If you're a video producer, but want to switch to writing, tell me what you've learned about good storytelling.

In short, make it easy for me to picture you fitting in perfectly—or standing out in all the right ways.

I can’t wait to meet you.

Sincerely,

The Hiring Manager

Follow Anita Hamilton on Twitter.