What Employers Actually Look For in a Cover Letter

Handing over of final business contract
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Some of us want the cover letter to die. Others just want it to evolve. But most of us simply want to learn how to write one that will actually get us an interview.

So what does that cover letter look like, the one that will compel employers to regard you as a possible candidate?

When it comes to writing an entry-level job cover letter, there’s a lot more to look out for than typos and grammar errors.

Here’s what employers actually look for in a cover letter.

CAN YOU SELL YOURSELF?

Your cover letter should persuade the employer to review your resume. Your resume should convince the employer to invite you in for an interview. The interview should show the employer that you’re the best fit for the job.

In short, the hiring process begins with the cover letter. So sell yourself.

The trick to selling yourself is to tailor your cover letter and to be as specific as possible. General statements will get you rejected in seconds flat.

Generic example:

I am a self-motivated go-getter.

Specific example:

During my previous internship at College Works Painting, I hired and managed my own employees, worked directly with customers, and dealt with the profitability, sales and marketing of my individual branch.  

Using the generic description forces the employer to take your word for it (which he won’t do). You’ve done nothing to prove that you’re a self-motivated go-getter.

The specific description, on the other hand, shows the employer that you have the drive and motivation to perform well because you’ve provided specific examples as proof.

cover letter

CAN YOU KEEP YOUR COVER LETTER UNDER 200 WORDS?

Short, direct, and to the point. That’s how your cover letter should be written. To accomplish this, limit yourself to 200 words. If your letter exceeds 200 words, make edits to tighten it up. Kill your darlings. Cut the fat.

Why do you need to limit your cover letter to 200 words, you ask? Great question. Because employers look for reasons to reject you.

While there are other ways to get noticed besides your cover letter, the cover letter hasn’t “died” yet. On the contrary, the cover letter’s no longer an option; it’s required.

Bad news though. Because employers require a cover letter, every candidate now includes one and employers are getting sick of reading them.

A concise cover letter will prove to employers that you can discipline yourself, that you have the ability to decipher important information from fluff, and let’s be honest, a long cover letter is boring. Yes, it is. Even yours.

If your cover letter sucks, the employer won’t even look at your resume.

cover letter
CAN YOU WRITE IN A CONVERSATIONAL TONE?

And speaking of boring… how’s the tone of your cover letter?

Yes, a cover letter should be professional. However, a stiff, technically written cover letter will just be thrown in the trash.

When talking to professors or executives you automatically step-up your game. You avoid slang and you keep your sentences concise. But you still talk like a human being.

Do the same in your cover letter.

What not to do:

To Whom It May Concern,

In the aforementioned job title, my qualifications and background concur accordingly. Therefore, I believe wholeheartedly that I am the accurate hire.

A better example:

Dear Cari Stark,

I’m really excited to apply for the Social Media Intern position at College Works Painting. In my previous social media internship at XYZ, I pitched and created social media content for Facebook and Instagram. During my internship I increased engagement by 7%.

You get the point. Speak professionally, but in a conversational tone. Overly professionally-written cover letters really just don’t make any sense.

cover letter

CAN YOU PROVE THAT YOU ACTUALLY KNOW THEIR BRAND?

This is why customizing your cover letter is so important. You cannot write a generic cover letter and use that same cover letter for every job you apply to. The employer will reject you immediately. One third of employers can spot a generic cover letter, by the way.

After job searching, when it comes time to apply to a job you found that you’re excited about, review the employer’s website and social pages.

What’s their tagline, what’s the service or product they offer, do they have a blog? Find something cool on their website or social channels and mention that in your cover letter.

Example:

I really enjoyed your article, “3 Tips to Turn Your Student Job into Your Ideal Career.” The tips are quick and easy, but more than anything they’re valuable. I noticed that all of your blog posts offer value to college students, which is something I really admire and would like to become a part of.  

You instantly become a much more desirable candidate when you take the time to prove that you’re familiar with a company’s brand.

cover letter

CAN YOU EXPLAIN HOW THE EMPLOYER WILL BENEFIT FROM HIRING YOU

Once the employer hires you and you make a great impression, they’ll become emotionally invested in your success. Until then, the employer’s in it for themselves.

That means during the application and hiring process, you need to convince the employer that the company will benefit from hiring you.

The employer doesn’t care that you’re one semester away from graduation and you need work experience in the industry relating to your major. Nor do they care that you want to work for them because you believe it’ll be a great learning experience for you.

Instead, the employer wants to know that you’re the best person for the job because you have the skills and accomplishments to nail the position and because you have the drive and work ethic to be more successful in that role than any other applicant.

When the employer’s finished reviewing your cover letter, he should think “wow, great candidate. Let’s review her resume and get her in here for an interview!” They won’t want to pass you up.

cover letter

The hiring process begins (and possibly ends) with the cover letter.  If you put minimal effort into your cover letter, why even bother applying to the job?

Cari Stark is a recent college graduate and the Marketing Manager for College Works Painting, a college internship that equips students with the necessary skills and experience to land their dream job when they graduate. Land an internship in less than 30 days with this free step-by-step guide.

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