Grads, Customize Your Cover Letter

Last month, Brinkley published an excellent article detailing five things graduates should take advantage of before leaving school. As an employer, I figured I'd add one more thing to that list - learn how to write a customized cover letter.


Here's the thing, all resume's look incredibly similar. Work experience, educational experience, skills, and accomplishments - those are the staple ingredients of a resume. Upon graduation, a lot of what goes on that resume mirrors those of others. Sure, you can try to spruce up the resume with attractive formatting and design, but the information contained within isn't what's going to set you apart. What's going to set you apart is how you get my attention in the first place. 


Handwritten, typed, email, the format doesn't matter. The whole purpose of the cover letter is to convince myself and my team that we should take time out of our hectic schedules to speak to you. That's the goal, at least.


When we have an open position, a lot of people apply. The first thing we do is filter potential interviewees into one of three piles.

  1. Yes, we want to talk to you.
  2. No, we don't want to talk to you.
  3. We might want to talk to you.


If you have written a decent cover letter, you go in Pile 1. If you haven't written a cover letter, or if your cover letter is terrible, you go in Pile 2. If we can't make up our minds, Pile 3 it is.


To avoid Pile 2, you can't send us a generic cover letter. 


I am interested in applying for the position of Project Manager as I believe I would be a good fit. Please find my resume attached. I look forward to hearing from you.


The above will never work. About 60% of the cover letters we get look like that...and those letters go straight to Pile 2. Nothing is compelling about that letter. It's a bland copy-and-paste job. It's just gross.


To get into the coveted Pile 1, there are two simple rules to follow.


  1. Show me you've read the job description. Don't just say you're a good fit, tell me why you're a good fit. Maybe you did something at school that relates to the position. Or, perhaps you googled something about the job, and you're eager to learn more. 
  2. Show me you've done your homework. I assume you know something about what we do. You'd be surprised at how many people go to our site and believe we're a design firm. Read our blog! The best cover letters pull in content from our site. A favorite letter of mine mentioned the fact that they shared our passion for the local craft-beer scene. Excellent - that demonstrated they were paying attention to our social media accounts. Brinkley asked me to explain how I almost took a bullet for the team. That got my attention - she'd been creeping on our website! If you mention dogs....well, you definitely will have our attention :). 


This advice applies to other agencies in town - your job is to convince us to talk to you, and a resume doesn't necessarily do that. The cover letter is the very first touch-point, so it needs to stand out. Using the above two rules, you can stand out from the pack.

Posted by EvolveKev

Kevin is all about research. Qualitative, quantitative, UX, you name it. When he's not researching, he's to be found laying down beats in his studio and hanging out with his dogs (and girlfriend). Woof.

Topics: Insider, How To's