There are essential cover letter principles that should guide each cover letter you write. However, rigidly following formulas can leave your cover letter bland and forgettable. There is one foundational axiom that must guide your cover letter: It’s all about connection.
Yes, your cover letter should be addressed to the proper party, briefly outline your interest in the job, make a case for why you are a good fit for the position, have a clear call to action, and be carefully proofed for errors. If your cover letter misses the mark on any of those criteria, it could be immediately rejected. If you pass that test, you’ve only gotten so far. Your application ends up in a stack of other cover letters that meet that same bar. How will you stand out? That’s where connection comes in.
A successful cover letter is an opening line that makes a hiring manager want to continue the conversation. Too many cover letters are monologues: “here’s a list of all the reasons why I am so great.” A successful cover letter focuses on why you are a great fit for this position in this institution at this time. It is a dialogue that is oriented around the company and their needs. Using your research into the organization, explain how you can take this position to new heights. While maintaining professionalism, allow your personality, values, and interest in the organization to shine through. Be vivid—but not obnoxious. While you should use dynamic language, you also don’t want your cover letter to look like a creative writing project. After you’ve completed the letter, put yourself into the position of the hiring manager and read your cover letter through their eyes.
In a future blog post, we’ll discuss how this axiom is also true for the interview. If you want to get to that interview, you have to connect in your cover letter.