The paradoxical key to writing a more effective cover letter:
Your cover letter isn’t really about you.
Josh Benoff, in Writing Without Bullshit, presents the “Iron-Clad Rule of writing” is as follows:
“Always treat your audience’s time as more valuable than your own.”
Take your focus off of yourself, and really consider them. Get creative about saving them time. Make it easy on them to decide to interview you. Make it easy on them during and after they interview you as well.
You are, in other words, writing to save them time and money. You’re researching the position and the company to know if you would be a good fit. You’re taking the time to think like they would think, use the language that they would use. You’re doing everything you can to care for them.
Follow these steps to write a more generous — and therefore effective — cover letter.
“People don’t buy what you do,
They buy why you do it.”
This is the most important step — figuring how your why with this position ties into your broader design of your life.
Your reason should be much more than, “to make money.” What type of work is this? How does this work fit in with who you are outside of the office? What kind of purpose / perspective do you bring to the position?
What drives you? What are you motivated by? Why this work? Why this employer? Why this particular position?
Open a brainstorming document — and write down as much as you can in answer to these questions.
Research the position and the employer as much as possible.
This includes, obviously, re-reading the job posting and cutting-and-pasting every relevant verb into your brainstorming document.
But job postings can be incomplete, misleading, or worse. Look at the website of the employer, their social media profiles, and any other communications that relate to their operations and/or customers. Understand them. Help them. Save them time.
Use as many action verbs as possible. You can get a wealth of these active verbs from the job posting, but Google can also help. Just search for “action verbs for ________” and include the type of work.
For example, instead of saying, I have experience teaching, dig down into all the little verbs that go into this “experience.” I plan lessons. I manage classrooms. I communicate with parents. I read. I learn. I assimilate new strategies to reach my students. I reflect. I write. I improve. I petition the state government for a livable wage.
This is the key point — where you and the candidate overlap. What are your best selling points, where your why and their why interact? What skills — action verbs — can you offer this particular position and company?
List them, then organize them into three main points.
Don’t be afraid to use a basic five-paragraph essay format to get started.
For example: “I would be a great second grade teacher at West Ridge. I can offer (1) my experience planning lessons and managing classrooms, my (2) communication and leadership skills of empathetic listening and speaking, and my (3) love for improving childhood education one class at a time.”
Then you’ll have a clear outline to structure your business letter that will be easy to read and follow.
When you’re organizing your pitch, remember the iron-clad rule: always treat your audience’s time as more valuable than your own.
Especially for entry-level positions, this is a crucial selling-point.
If you’re enthusiastic to learn and grow and improve, say so! If you know the people you’d like to learn and grow with, mention them (this is especially true for graduate school applications).
If you’re not enthusiastic to learn and grow in this particular position, with this particular company, or with this particular team, then don’t apply! Go back to the drawing board to find a position you can be excited about.
P.S. Networking is usually better than applying for jobs online…. “it’s not what you know… but who.”
Was this advice helpful to you? Any Questions? Let me know what you think!
What did I miss? What do you do to write effective cover letters? What don’t you do?
Best of luck to you, in all of your lives!