more on cover letters

A reader writes:

I’m a college graduate, and like so many others, I’ve been looking for some jobs. I’m left a bit confused on the cover letter, though….. which, I understand can almost be more important than your resume! I understand that I have to relate my experience to why I am perfect for the company and this job. I’ve read that this also is where I should show off how much I know about the company. Given that ‘shortest is sweetest’, it seems a bit wasteful to make the company read about themselves. Is it truly advisable to write about the company in the cover letter? If so, how do I go about doing so effectively?

Also, I’ve heard the ‘don’t tell them what YOU want, tell them what THEY want’ advice. But I’ve also head that it a good idea to tell them who I am by talking about my own career goals/motivation for applying. I’m specifically thinking of my application for a temporary position as an administrative assistant to the COO of a hospital. I said towards the end of the second paragraph, “Ultimately, I seek to pursue a career in health administration and policy, and I know that working in this office, albeit temporarily, would be an invaluable opportunity for me.” Was that bad form? Again, what is the best thing to do, and how do I do it effectively?

Yes, it truly is good to write about the company in the cover letter. But that doesn’t mean you should regurgitate facts about the company that they will already know (I hate that, in fact). Rather, when you write about the company, you do so in the context of explaining what appeals to you about this particular company. See this post for an example of how to do that.

On your second question, yes, you should both explain how you fit what they need, but also why you’re interested in them. Mentioning your interest in working in health policy when applying for a position in a hospital helps them see you as perhaps a bit more invested in the opportunity than the average candidate looking for any old assistant position. Remember, employers like candidates who are excited about this particular job, not just a job. (This might be becoming my mantra.)

{ 3 comments… read them below }

  1. Rachel - Employment File*

    The most important advice anyone can give you about cover letters is to make sure you write about the right company.

    I can’t tell you how many times I laugh and call out to my boss “I didn’t know we were filling XYZ position and that you’re being replaced by Jane Doe.”

  2. The Ethical Slut*

    I’ve become more an more convinced that there are two kinds of employers trawling the job sites:

    1) Snowball in hell: They’ve already found someone but post the job because they’re required to. They have a machine or dead-behind-the-eyes HR drone processing your resume through some word recognition program and your cover letter doesn’t get acknowledged at all. The kind where you send your glowing cover letter and excellent resume off a dozen times and when you finally get in, realize that everyone smokes the most crack there. They’re most of the ads out there and not places you want to work anyway.

    2) The rare places that a human being at least glances over your cover letter. This is where you need to write your well-written, personalized, heart-on-your-sleeve cover letter. My guess is that these people get 150 replies with “i am writing in regards to the blah blah” and your letter will actually stand out.

    Does writing medium-length letters pouring out your heart and soul sound like a quick trip to incredibly depressed-ville? Oh, it is. You write them, noone gets back to you, because they’re mostly category 1, you want to die. Its the only way to go, though.

    This is what Ask A Manager taught me (I think, perhaps I have not learned my lessons well.)

  3. Special Projector*

    When I look at cover letters, I’m less interested in WHAT they’re saying, than HOW they’re saying it.

    –Can they string two or three sentences together to form a coherent paragraph?

    –Do they use proper grammar? (their/there/they’re; it’s its, etc.)

    IMO, it’s just basic writing/communication abilities.

    Of course, it’s true that they could have their mom write it for them….

Comments are closed.