Question: What advice do you have to help your cover letter stand out? –Paige W., Chicago
Answer: With all the articles and guides floating around the internet, it can be difficult to know where to begin when it comes to the cover letter. One thing that’s for certain is to include one when applying to positions. I don’t believe that hiring managers don’t read cover letters—they may skim, sure, but the notion that they simply toss your letter into the recycling is unfounded. With that, some ways to help your cover letter stand out amongst the pack:
Addressing the letter
The stalwart, “to whom it may concern” may be the fastest way for a hiring manager to dismiss your letter. Contrary to popular belief, not knowing the name of the specific person reading it won’t work against you. In fact, going to excessive lengths to reach out to the organization in order to find out will do so. A good alternative if you’re not given a name is to simply address the organization as a whole (e.g. Dear Careers In Nonprofits). It’s simple and all-encompassing, with little room for misinterpretation.
Cover letters don’t have to follow the same template. In fact, they should—like resumes—be customized to the position you’re applying for. After all, this is your way of introducing yourself and what you’re about, and there’s no better way than to tell a quick story. Whether you tie in a childhood pastime to the organization’s mission or describe the fundraising effort that led you to the role, an anecdote is a great way to bring the experience on your resume to life.
Removing filler words/clichés
Remember that you only have one page to tell an anecdote (if applicable), express your interest in the position and explain what you’re going to bring to the table if hired. Read and re-read, edit and consider having another set of eyes review your draft to cut out unnecessary adverbs, description or language.
Testimonials/references from supervisors/colleagues
“References available upon request” says little—everyone has references available upon request. Consider inserting (where appropriate) condensed versions of recommendations you’ve received in the past, whether in writing or on LinkedIn.
The cover letter sets the stage for describing what your story is, what kind of experience you have and what you can bring to the table. They don’t need to be bland copies of each other full of stodgy language and trite metaphors. Reviewing the tips above might find your job search bolstered by the basics!
Nurys Harrigan-Pedersen is president of Careers In Nonprofits, the experts in nonprofit staffing and recruiting with offices in Chicago and Washington, D.C.