Any conversation around a job candidate or job search usually contains multiple mentions of the résumé. And rightfully so -- a listing of your job history and experience gives you credibility as a potential hire. However, the increase in online hiring practices has changed the way managers find, recruit and evaluate potential candidates. Now, most of the information found on your résumé can easily be found elsewhere online -- LinkedIn, social networks, portfolios, etc. -- and the information that we, as hiring managers, can learn from a résumé aren't necessarily the differentiators that get you an interview. Honestly, a résumé contains information that others can claim -- notable past employers, great experience, and top education.
A cover letter, however, is something that can be uniquely yours.
So, after you've been moved to the "yes" pile (likely a computer desktop folder) based on your stellar résumé, how do you stand apart from all the other candidates who also made the cut? A well-crafted cover letter can be the x-factor you're searching for -- here a few things to consider while preparing yours.
Start by telling your potential employer a little bit about who you are, where you're from and what makes you tick. Be humble and give the reader — most likely the hiring manager — a genuine recap of how you got to where you are and where you really want to be. (Hint: The latter should probably have something to do with the position you're applying for!) And, most importantly, do it all in a way that is confident and professional, but not robotic — the reader should feel like they're getting to know the real you.
Explain why you want to work at a company and nowhere else (even if it's not totally true).
Now that you've shared your life story, be sure they know you're familiar with their story as well. Research the company and define exactly what it is about their work and culture that puts it at the top of your list. Explain how you first discovered them and why you would love the opportunity to join their ranks. Was it a recent project or campaign they did that made you a fan? Or maybe you recognized a member of their team as someone you continually reference for inspiration. Perhaps you were recently introduced to the company through an interesting article or blog post? Whatever the case may be, lacing a few of these details into your cover letter is a great way to catch the hiring managers attention and show the company you're pursuing that you've done your homework.
Explicitly and implicitly show off your skillset
Once you've expressed your desire to work for the company and why they're the place for you, show them you have the skillset and experience that makes you the best choice for the job. Provide examples of your work that are relevant to their company — and elaborate on your role if there were others that contributed. Simplify the evaluation process for the person reviewing your application by including links that reference these specific projects in your online portfolio or are live on the web. In addition to your role-specific acumen, a thoughtful cover letter will go a long way to show what its like to work with you by showcasing your attention to detail, organizational skills and your ability to communicate clearly and professionally.
Thanks to the internet, the hiring process has changed in good ways and bad -- but the qualities that hiring managers look for remain the same. A résumé and LinkedIn profile might get you into the "yes" pile but the cover letter still holds the keys to making the cut.
About the Author
Brett Swanson is the Team Development Director at Firstborn, a creative and technology company in New York City. Starting at the agency as an intern, he spent five years creating award-winning digital experiences through his work as a 3D artist, motion graphics designer and audio engineer. The Univ of Florida grad is now focused on growing the agencies' innovative creative, strategy, production and technology teams."