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What Companies Look For In A Cover Letter

You know that next job of yours? Yes, that’s right, the really amazing one with the brilliant co-workers, cool boss, and fresh, free snacks in the office vending machine? That one.

You know how you’re going to land it? By quickly showing your future employer that:

a) You’re going to perform incredibly well in this job.
b) You’re insanely likable.
c) You’re really going to fit in around there.

These are the three primary factors that influence the selection process. The person who wins that great job will be the one who shows the decision makers, quickly, that he or she is all three of those things. And you have an amazing opportunity to begin planting these seeds right from the introduction, à la your cover letter.

Most people squander the opportunity. Instead of using their cover letter real estate to their massive advantage, they toss over bland, cliche-filled, or completely-redundant-to-the-resume clunkers. Or worse, they showcase all the things that they want out of the deal, without pausing for a moment to recognize that the company cares a heck of a lot more about what it’s going to get from you.

As a recruiter, it pains me to read most cover letters, because the vast (and I mean vast) majority of them stink. Knowing this should inspire you even further to create a brilliant one. Because, let me tell you, on those rare occasions an amazing cover letter crosses my desk? Mamma mia. It makes my day, and it most certainly influences my interest in its author.

So, how do you pull off a killer cover letter, one that conveys passion and talent and that makes the recruiter or hiring manager’s day? Make sure you do all of these things.

1. Tell Them Why, Specifically, You’re Interested in the Company

Decision makers never want to feel like you’re wallpapering the universe with the same pathetic cover letter. They want to feel special. And so, you need to make it clear that you’re approaching this organization for very specific reasons. And ideally, not the same very specific reasons that everyone else is giving.


Try a high-personality lead in like this: “Having grown up with the Cincinnati Zoo (literally) in my backyard, I understand firsthand how you’ve earned your reputation as one of the most family-friendly venues in the State of Ohio. For 20 years, I’ve been impressed as your customer; now I want to impress visitors in the same way your team has so graciously done for me.”

2. Outline What You Can Walk Through the Doors and Deliver

This isn’t you making a general proclamation of, “Hey, I’m great. I swear!” You need to scrutinize the job description and use whatever other information you’ve gathered about the opening, determine the key requirements and priorities for this job, and make it instantly clear to the reviewer that you can deliver the goods on these key things.


Consider crafting a section within the letter that begins with, “Here’s what, specifically, I can deliver in this role.” And then expound upon your strengths in a few of the priority requirements for that role (they’re typically listed first on the job description or mentioned more than once).

3. Tell a Story, One That’s Not on Your Resume

As humans, we love stories far more than we love data sheets. (OK, I speak for most humans). So, what’s your story? What brings you to this company? Did you used to sing along to all of its commercials as a kid? Did the product make some incredible difference in your life? Do you sometimes pull into the parking lot and daydream about what it would feel like to work there? Tell your story. Just make sure you have a great segue. Random trivia can come across as weird.


Say you’re applying for a marketing job with a baked goods company known for its exquisite tarts and pies. You may want to weave a sentence or two into your cover letter about how you took the blue ribbon in the National Cherry Festival pie eating contest when you were 10, and that you’ve been a pie fanatic ever since. (Yes, this was me, but I actually came in second place. Sigh.)

4. Address the Letter to an Actual Person Within the Company

Not one employee at your future new company is named “To Whom it May Concern,” so knock that off. You’ve got to find a real person to whom you can direct this thing.

This seems so hard or overwhelming, but it’s often easier than you may think. Just mosey over to LinkedIn and do a People search using the company’s name as your search term. Scroll through the people working at that company until you find someone who appears to be the hiring manager. If you can’t find a logical manager, try locating an internal recruiter, the head of staffing or, in smaller companies, the head of HR. Address your masterpiece to that person. Your effort will be noted and appreciated.

And a last, critical factor when it comes to delivering a great cover letter: Be you. Honest, genuine writing always goes much, much further than sticking to every dumb rule you’ve ever read in stale, outdated career guides and college textbooks.

Rules can be bent. In fact, if you truly want that amazing job with the brilliant co-workers, cool boss, and fresh, free snacks? They should be.

That's awesome to hear, because connecting great people to great jobs is kinda our thing.

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Most of the job seekers I know get hung up on writing their cover letter . How do I tell the hiring manager everything he needs to know about me in one page? they ask.

And I answer: You don’t.

Here’s the thing: In your cover letter , employers don’t only want to hear about you. They want to hear about themselves, too. Think about it: Some employers receive hundreds—even thousands—of applications for a single position, and presumably, a large percentage of those applicants are qualified for the job. They read pages upon pages of very qualified people describing their very relevant qualifications—so, unless you’ve done something really out-of-this-world, yours may or may not stand out.

On the other hand, if you can show a company right away how (and why) you’d add value to their team—that’s compelling.

So, for your next cover letter, stop making it all about you. Here’s what you should be saying instead.

1. Why You Love the Company

The best cover letters I’ve read are from people who have a passion for my company, and can make that passion come to life on a page. The letters that make me say, “Yes! This person really gets it.” Because, at the end of the day, I want to hire people who already get it. Most hiring managers do.

But most candidates don’t go the extra mile of showing that they get it . At best, they’ll mention the company name or say something like, “I want to work at an exciting company”—neither of which really say much. Instead, spend the first paragraph of your cover letter sharing, in great detail, why you love the company and just how much you get it.

2. What You’d Do There

Your resume is a list of your qualifications and skills, so you don’t have to regurgitate those in your cover letter. What you should do instead? Talk about how those qualifications and skills would be put to good use at the company. In detail. Don’t just say, “I know I could put my social media expertise to good use on your marketing team”—share 1-2 very specific ideas of what you might do once hired at the company (backed up by your track record of amazing accomplishments, of course).

For example, talk about an on-brand hashtag campaign you’d run on Twitter to engage users (and mention you’ve done this before, if you have), or make some concrete suggestions on how the company might adapt its Pinterest strategy to better get in front of its target demographic. Make the hiring manager think he or she can’t live without you.

3. Why You’re a Culture Fit

Last, but certainly not least, your cover letter is the perfect place to show how you’d fit in with the company culture . You don’t necessarily have to describe why you’re a culture fit (and in fact, this can be annoying), but you can show you are by the tone, words, and level of formality you use. (Uber-corporate office? Keep it professional. Creative ad agency? Absolutely ditch the “I was excited to find this position” opener.)

But, by all means, if there are specific cultural references you can include, do. Is the place known for being the most dog-friendly company in your city? Say how much you and your golden retriever would like to join the team.

If you can show your passion, your ideas for the company, and your personality, and translate them into language the hiring manager understands, you’ll be doing so in no time.

Photo of cover letter courtesy of photo source .

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