Please Do Not Send a Cover Letter Like This
January 12, 2017

Please Do Not Send a Cover Letter Like This

by Brian de Haaff

I am often surprised by what people choose to send as cover letters. Typos, broken links, and rambling emails. I also see messages like this one: “I was looking for work-from-home opportunities and I came across your company. Below is a copy of my resume. Please let me know if you have anything available.”

Now, I know that finding a new job is difficult. And you probably have limited time each day to work on your search. Sometimes in a rush to land something new, you may fire off a quick note (like the one above) without giving it much thought. But the quick-fire approach rarely yields positive results.

If you cannot thoughtfully explain why you are a good fit for the role and the company, then you are wasting the hiring manager’s time. Worse, you are applying energy to something that will yield no results. 

So, back to my example above. What was wrong with this type of approach? Well, it caught my eye — but for all the wrong reasons. Let’s break it down, line by line:

I was looking for work-from-home opportunities…
Believe me, I get that remote work is a valuable benefit. We built our entire team at Aha! around the promise and premise of remote work. But we do not hire people just because they want to work from home. A better approach would be to explain the value that a distributed team brings everyone. For example, if you worked as part of a distributed team explain how you have successfully done so in the past. If you are motivated to join a remote team, explain why.

…and I came across your company.
This tells me that you have not done your research. In fact, you may be sending this same message to dozens of companies. I am not expecting you to know all the details of our company’s history. But I do want to see that you put some effort into researching our background and values. It could be as simple as, “I have read your blog and the recent post on leadership resonated” or “I believe my responsiveness and adaptability make me well-suited to join a high-growth company like Aha!

Below is a copy of my resume.
This is not helping either of us. Instead of asking me to analyze your resume, point me in the right direction. Briefly highlight your key accomplishments, specifically noting how they are relevant to the role for which you are applying. Include pertinent details or achievements in a clear cover letter — the specifics that might not have made it into the job synopsis on your resume. This will make you stand out right away (assuming your experience is relevant). And I will be grateful that you made my job a little easier.

Please let me know if you have anything available.
Now this is just silly. You did not look at the open positions on our website? It is not my job to figure out what role would be right for you. So help me out. Be clear which position you are applying for and why. And better yet, put it in the subject line of your email (e.g. “Product manager with SaaS experience applying for Customer Success position”).

If you are sending one-size-fits-all cover letters, my guess is that you are not getting much of a response. Slow down. You would be better served applying to fewer positions and customizing what you send.

I am not saying cover letters need to be long. In fact, I have written before that they should be short. But more than anything, these notes should be accomplishment-focused — conveying the value you have demonstrated in the past and will bring to this new role.

So next time you are tempted to copy-and-paste your standard quickie cover letter, take a step back. Research the company. Consider your skills and goals. And then ask yourself how they would fit into the role.

When you convey this value to the hiring manager, you will get noticed. Maybe it will not ultimately be the right job for you. But it will increase the number of roles for which you are seriously considered.

What kinds of cover letters have worked best for you?

Brian de Haaff

Brian seeks business and wilderness adventure. He is the co-founder and CEO of Aha! — the world’s #1 roadmap software — and the author of the bestseller Lovability. Brian writes and speaks about product and company growth and the adventure of living a meaningful life.

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