Becoming Billy Shakespeare: Crafting a Powerful Cover Letter

I read a lot of cover letters.

With most of them, I feel as though I’m reading standard newspaper AP fare.  Nothing earth-shattering, but it gets the job done.  Others are harder to digest — it’s more like reading furniture assembly instructions…in a language I don’t speak.

But every once in a while I come across a cover letter that captivates me like a great piece of literature. It accomplishes exactly what it should: it makes me want to keep reading and then reach out to the candidate and learn more.

​This happened recently when I received an application from a candidate I’ll call “A.R.” She did five things in her cover letter that every free-market job applicant should do:

  1. Tell a Story

From the very first sentence, A.R. captured my attention:

As an immigrant from a country where the opportunity to succeed is only available to a select few, I have my own experience with the American Dream.

She went on to explain how her family moved to the United States to have a better life. Of course, not everyone will have such a dramatic story to share, but even telling an account of how you first came to appreciate liberty or how you personally witnessed the value of free-markets will go a long way to engage readers.

Not only was A.R.’s story captivating, but it also provided a great segue into the organization’s mission…which brings us to the second key ingredient for a well-written cover letter.

  1. Explain Your Passion for the Mission

Even if your resume illustrates your zeal for free-markets, make sure to explain your interest in the hiring organization’s mission. A.R. did this beautifully by tying her personal story to the nonprofit’s goals. In addition, she described how she had observed in her career the very problem the organization seeks to address. In just two paragraphs, she skillfully articulated how her personal and professional experience aligns with the organization’s work.

  1. Tell Me Why I Should Hire You

While your resume will hopefully provide many good reasons for you to get the job, the cover letter is your opportunity to highlight the things your resume doesn’t include. Again, A.R. hit a home run on this point. She artfully explained how she has handled the very same responsibilities outlined in the job description. As icing on the cake, she even provided concrete evidence that she possess the characteristics the organization seeks in candidates, such as adaptability, flexibility, entrepreneurship, and relationship-building skills.

  1. Follow Instructions

The application instructions asked for a few simple things — all of which A.R. provided on the first submission. This is not only a good indicator to the organization that she will pay attention on the job, but it also demonstrates that she cared enough about the opportunity to get it right the first time.

  1. Proofread!

A.R.’s cover letter was not only engaging and persuasive, it was also delightfully free of errors! If I had a dime for every client who told me he was not going to pursue a candidate because of mistakes in a cover letter, I wouldn’t have to fundraise to keep Talent Market’s lights on. And it’s not just grammatical/spelling errors; oftentimes candidates express their heartfelt interest in the wrong job with the wrong organization — a clear sign they forgot to proofread!

As you have gathered by now, A.R.’s cover letter was a cut above the rest. She did everything you’re supposed to do, and her writing was eloquent. But don’t worry if you’re not Billy Shakespeare: if you follow these simple rules, you, too, can craft a powerful cover letter.

Claire Kittle Dixon is executive director of Talent Market.  This was originally published on her web site – you can see her other writing here.

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