Preparing an American Style Cover Letter
January 28, 2018Writing in English, International Business
Preparing an American Style Cover Letter
Applying for your first job in the US? Maybe you have work experience elsewhere in the world, but this is your first time looking for a job from a US company. If so, you’re probably getting used to new norms in the job application and interview process, including the way American’s style resumes and cover letters.
Cover letters in the US are a way for you to show your understanding of the company and position you’re applying for, and highlight the skills and experiences you have that you’d like to draw the recruiter or hiring manager’s attention to. With that in mind, we created the following list of 14 tips to help your cover letter stand out.
Customize your Content
The cover letter is meant to help you show you understand the company and role you’re applying for, so the worst mistake you can make is sending in a cookie cutter cover letter that doesn’t address the specific company you’re applying for, the position, and the company’s needs and problems. And no, just changing the company’s name and position title in your cover letter template doesn’t help!
To start this step, do some research on the company and see what they’re about, what problems the department you’re applying for is facing, and evaluate what skills and experiences a hiring manager would want in the position they’re hiring for. If you were the hiring manager, what would you like to see in potential candidates? Then, simply point to the experiences and skills you have that best show you can solve their problems.
Don’t Regurgitate your Resume
When we say you should ‘highlight’ the experiences you have that are most relevant, that doesn’t mean rewriting your resume! You can mention experiences listed on your resume, but use the cover letter as an opportunity to give further information about relevant roles you’ve had in a way that may not be possible in the comparatively stricter format of a resume.
Customize your Tone of Voice
Similar to customizing your content, it’s important to tailor your tone of voice for the job you’re applying for. A cover letter for a job as Managing Director at a top bank should be different from the cover letter for a position as a junior writer at Buzzfeed. A hiring manager from a bank would obviously not take a candidate with this cover letter so seriously, and vice versa, a hiring manager at Buzzfeed wouldn’t want to see an overly formal and pompous cover letter for their writers. It’s important to match the tone of voice of the company in your cover letter, so if you’re applying to Buzzfeed as a writer, your cover letter should reflect that!
Without research, how are you going to know the company’s tone of voice, what they’re looking for, and how your skillset fits the position? Make sure to look into the company’s background and know the challenges the company and department is facing, so you better understand how you can address these problems in your cover letter.
Keep it Short
Most experts say a cover letter should be no longer than a page, and many say a half page is just right for a well-written cover letter. In addition, you should do your best to make your cover letter easy to read and skimmable, and try to format it so the hiring manager’s eyes easily fall on the skills and qualifications that make you the best candidate for the job.
One way to make your cover letter more easily skimmable is to quantify your achievements whenever possible. The reader’s eyes will be drawn to these numbers, and they help show the impact you’ve had at previous jobs. For example: “Significantly increased revenue and ROI” doesn’t quite have the same ring as “Increased revenue by 125% and ROI on marketing spend by 50% over a 9-month period”.
Hiring managers want to hear what you achieved, and want to know how you can bring similar successes to their company.
Focus on Their Needs, Not Yours
The hiring manager reading your cover letter probably isn’t interested in why his/her job is the perfect launchpad for your career, or how much you’ll learn from the experience, or how much you’ll gain from working there. Instead, they want to know how you’ll be able to help them and their company, rather than what their company can do for you.
Be sure to frame yourself as a problem solver for your new potential employer, rather than someone simply looking to take advantage of the company and position to further your own goals.
Keep it (somewhat) casual
The need to put the hiring manager’s full name, company address, phone number, fax number, age, email address, home address… has long since passed in the age of the internet. A brief “Hello Mr. Smith,” at the top of your letter will generally suffice.
Similarly, avoid language that seems like it belongs in a Shakespearean novel, and stick to language that is clear, concise, and direct.
Do Everything You Can to Find the Hiring Manager’s Name
Sometimes it can be difficult to find the name of the hiring manager or the person reading your resume, and in these cases you may need to use a more generic phrase like “Dear Financial Analyst Hiring Manager,” but you should do whatever you can to address the hiring manager personally if at all possible.
Do a Little Research on the Hiring Manager
No, you don’t need to know how many kids she has, her anniversary date, or the story behind the weird scar on her left pinky, but briefly checking their Linkedin profiles will let you know their professional background and maybe some interests you can highlight in your cover letter or resume.
If you find the hiring manager played a sport in college, and you also played a competitive sport, you may want to bring up how your sports career has affected your professional career by teaching you willpower and determination (or something similar). The hiring manager is more likely to relate to your cover letter and resume if she can find commonalities between herself and you.
Plus, everyone wants to work with people they like, and including these little commonalities makes you seem more relatable (and therefore likeable!)
Don’t be Afraid to Brag (a little)
Alright, so no one wants to work with someone who is constantly talking about how great they are, and in some cultures the humble approach, even on cover letters, is definitely best, but in the US you need to put your best foot forward and show how your accomplishments fit the company, so don’t be afraid to brag a little! Are you a coder that designed a new website for your past company in record time? Or maybe an operations manager who found a creative way to streamline shipping to reduce costs by 15% at your old company? Don’t be afraid to bring it up!
We think it goes without saying that the way you say something is often as important as what you’re saying, so avoid things like this:
“Despite a total lack of internal support, and due to my great and unfailing leadership abilities and superior intelligence, I singlehandedly decreased our company’s operating costs by 20%”
Even if all that is totally true, no one will want to work with you (or speak with you) after reading that sentence (if you don’t see the mistakes in the sentence above, drop us an email or write a comment, and we’d be happy to clarify).
Skip the Slow Intro
Avoid the phrase “My name is _ , and I’m applying for the _ position, which I found on your website.” This makes you sound inexperienced, and is a very slow way to start what should be a dynamic letter highlighting your experiences and fit for the role. Instead, you can jump right in by discussing how the role relates to your past experiences and how your skillset would be a great fit for the company.
Do you lack the experience the job you’re looking for requires? In that case, a traditional cover letter may not be enough to make you stand out. In this case, you may want to try a short presentation, video, article, website build, or other project that shows you understand the company’s problems and have the skills to do the job, despite your relative lack of experience. This obviously takes more time and effort to pull off, but these kinds of efforts can catch the eye of recruiters and hiring managers, and a well done project that addresses the company’s needs is almost guaranteed to get your resume a second look, if nothing else.
Should the position you originally applied for not be a fit, these types of mini projects are often also memorable enough for company recruiters to contact you for different positions when one rolls around that is a better fit for your skillset.
Proofread for Mistakes
We can’t stress this one enough, as nothing will send your cover letter and resume into the “No” pile faster than blatant spelling and grammatical errors. If English isn’t your first language, have a native English speaking friend read your materials over for you before you submit them.
If that isn’t an option for you, use a service like Writesaver, which provides fast, accurate, and affordable proofreading from native English speakers, on all of your documents you send to potential employers. A service like Writesaver is invaluable if you’re a nonnative English speaker searching for a new job, and will ensure all your communications are error-free.
This also extends to emails to recruiters or hiring managers, as even the most casual of interactions may be being evaluated at competitive positions.
Got cover letter questions? Need more advice about applying for jobs in the US? Leave them in the comments.