How to Use Great Cover Letters to Win Interviews

Want to win more job interviews? Great cover letters can make the difference between getting noticed in your job search and getting trashed.

The fact of the matter is, what makes a cover letter truly great is not whether you have followed the right format and included the right information in the right places. Yes, that is important – critical, in fact (click here for basic information about writing cover letters). But a generic cover letter can do all of those things correctly and those are average at best.

At the heart of great cover letters is the understanding that a real, live person will be reading your letter. Do you know who it is? If you don’t, you won’t be able to write a great letter. If you’re writing to no one in particular, there is a tendency to settle for a stilted, yet technically correct letter that is about as much fun to read as a phone book.

Step 1: Great cover letters are addressed to a specific person — the hiring manager

Admittedly, writing to the hiring manager is more easily said than done. Most companies won’t tell you who heads any particular department, let alone who is hiring. That’s where your networking skills, research skills and pure tenacity come in: find out the person’s name and title, then direct your cover letter and resume to them. Hint: This is not the human resources person! You can cc the HR Manager, but find out who the real hiring manager is and you’ll be far ahead of the pack.

Step 2: Great cover letters speak directly to their needs — not yours

As much as it seems like your resume and cover letter are all about you, there is really a slight twist that makes the difference between good and great. The hiring manager (the real, live person that will be reading your letter and resume) is on a mission to solve an immediate problem. What is that problem? You guessed it, your networking and research should help you find out. Great cover letters and resumes show a keen understanding of the challenges and how you can solve them.

Step 3: Great cover letters connect the dots about how you can solve their problems

Once you know who you’re writing to and what problems they are trying to solve, use your cover letter to clearly connect the dots between what they want and what you can offer. Show how you’ve done it before through your results and accomplishments. Do this in a conversational tone that is easy to read and understand. And customize this for the opportunity at hand. Refer to the example of cover letter samples here for more information.

Let’s face it, the steps above are the most time-consuming part of any job search. No wonder most people opt for the lazy approach of a generic cover letter and resume combined with a shotgun approach of answering ads or posting their resume to online databases.

I get it, I really do. I know you have to do those things or you’ll feel like you’re missing opportunities. I know you want to respond quickly to opportunities that come up. So go ahead. Those things do work too, especially if you’ve followed our advice for building a focused, keyword-rich resumes that sell your accomplishments. But know that you are one of many using this approach, and success is tougher to come by.

Here’s my career advice: To really stand out and to maximize your chances of getting the interview, take the steps to writing a great cover letter to heart. Spend time every week networking and researching so that you will also have the opportunity to connect directly to the hiring manager, understand their problem and then connect the dots for them by articulating how you can solve it.

Good luck!

If you’re looking for more information about writing cover letters, check out these articles: