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How to write a great cover letter

Hey everyone, Rodrigo here. Today we are going to discuss a bit about what’s a cover letter and what I think are good things to have on one.

What is a cover letter?

So, first things first, what is a cover letter? The logic behind a cover letter is to be something that complements your resume. In your resumé, you are going to describe your skills and experiences and so on, and in your cover letter, you should write a brief description that convinces the person who is looking to hire someone that you are a good fit for that position.

People want to connect with other people, and it’s hard to do it given you have a very limited communication tool, which is a text, that usually fits in a single page. So, given this limitation, is important that we be able to sound natural and authentic to engage people to read more than the first two lines of your cover letter.

Where I can start my cover letter?

That’s a great question, and I have no idea either. So I did a quick Google search for “great examples of cover letters” and I got a bunch of results. It’s very impressive how many websites are specialized in this subject, which should be a great source of information, but I don’t know about you, none of them give me that excitement about their cover letters.

But to be more objective, let’s pick one of them and take a look.

An sample resume from a guy called Lando

Header information

At the top of this cover letter, we have a session dedicated to the personal information of the applicant, here we have good and bad things. The first thing that came to my attention is the name of the person, which is critical information because you want to be remembered, so it’s important that your name stands out in some way in your cover letter.

Above it, there is a ton of information, like a “To” session that is very generic, containing information about the hiring person, I don’t think the hiring person would need to read her own information in your cover letter, it’s just a waste of space, so I would completely rip off this session from a cover letter.

Still, in the header session, we have many links and information about how to contact the applicant. Well, I agree that it is important to have your contact information somewhere because is pointless to write a cover letter and be eligible to move forward in the hiring process if the hiring manager can’t contact you back, but do you need to put 7 different ways on there? I don’t think so. I would go with just one or two best ways to communicate with you if you are a person who regularly checks your email, I would go with my email, and perhaps my website, if I want to showcase something.

What to put on the cover letter body?

Moving on to the most important part of the cover letter, the body itself. This is where you need to work smart to keep the attention of your reader.

Our friend Lando starts saluting the hiring manager, most of the time you are not going to know the name of the hiring manager, so you can use the company name as an alternative. Next, Lando remembers the manager about the position that she is interviewing for, which is another waste of time. Similar, to a YouTube video where people close the tab if the video doesn’t sound interesting in its initial minutes, here will be the first two lines that will decide if the hiring manager will read the next lines with curiosity or if they will skip most of the parts.

The opening sentence

So, this “opening sentence” should be something interesting, something that catches the reader’s attention. So, you can be creative here, you can start with a very short story that makes her curious regarding where it will lead, or another effective way is to address a pain point the company is experiencing. Our friend Lando used that paragraph to talk about himself, and delivered a very broad and kind of boring introduction, just saying how many years of experience he has, which doesn’t mean much, and a background implementing and maintaining systems, which any developer has, so he didn’t stand out for the crowd, especially given the job position is to an executive position, so having a background as a developer could be used as something to build a good story, like where he comes and where he is now to apply to this position, but nothing was showed here.

Move on to the next paragraph, there are some good and bad points, a good point is that he finally started to link with the executive position, showing that he is a manager with experience leading teams, but there is something odd regarding to migrate COBOL system to a Unix-based application (???), I didn’t understand the relation here. Anyway, move on to another good point, measurable data. This brings the reader close to your reality, the numbers themselves don’t mean much, but is important that the fact you were able to measure it, is important to give you more authority regarding the job.

An even better way to connect to your reader is to show something that connects directly with her problems. In this case, Lando could be explored more regarding how he participated, as a manager, in the process of funding this application and convincing the business team to put money into that, and how these performance gains were perceived by business teams. Regarding recovery exercises, he could bring what led to his introduction of these recovery exercises and situations where this investment paid off.

Another important part to mention is if these skills are somehow related to the job position challenges. If the job position is for a startup company, being able to migrate legacy systems to brand new ones, is not something that addresses the pain points of the hiring manager, this is more you tooting your own horn than something that can give you extra points with the recruiter.

Back to our little friend Lando, the remaining paragraphs showcase more skills that he has, regarding many aspects like, SOX reports, infrastructure initiatives, customer support, and technical skills. Same case here, if these skills are related somehow to the pain points the company has, point to him, otherwise, I will change it for something else.

Also, besides talking about you, the ideal scenario was if you would be able to link each of these experiences with things that you can bring to the company you are applying. Like, if the company has problems with many servers that no one knows who is the owner, Lando could link this with his ability to lead decommission infrastructure hardware initiatives. If the company has many SOX audits to fill in, Lando could bring an example of how he speed-up or optimized this process in his previous jobs.

Make sure your cover letter doesn’t have any typos

Well, this is very basic and I think everybody knows that you need to check and proofread your cover letter before sending it. But if you are not convinced yet and is thinking that a couple of typos are not more important than your skills, you could be harming your chances of being hired. When you are reading a cover letter, you can’t know if what is there is true or not, but if she spots a bunch of typos in your cover letter, she will led to think that you don’t care about what you are writing or even building, and is not a very detail-oriented person.

But Rodrigo, I’m not an English native speaker, and my English skills are not good enough to spot every typo or bad sentence in my cover letter. No worries, you can use AI to rescue you.

Also, another good piece of advice from Jeff Su on his video about cover letter typos, is that you should ask up to 5 people to proof-read your cover letter (make sure your current boss is not among them)

What elements a cover letter should contain

After Lando’s cover letter analyses, I had some good insights regarding what’s good to have on my cover letter, I can list some of these elements

  • Name;
  • One or two personal information will be used to reply to you;
  • A good opening sentence that engages the reader to keep reading your cover letter;
  • Link your experiences with the pain points of the current job position;