Like how to start it when you have no clue who the hiring manager is.
Writing an amazing cover letter can feel impossible, but putting in that effort is so worth it. “Cover letters are an opportunity to make a case for why you’d excel at the job, totally aside from what’s on your résumé,” Alison Green, a former hiring manager who runs the Ask a Manager blog, tells SELF. “Employers aren’t just hiring experience,” she explains. Instead, they’re looking for someone who more or less has the whole package, which is hard to tell if all they know is your job history! Here, Green offers her expert insight on how to make your cover letter rise to the top of the pile.
1. Use a more casual opening than “To whom it may concern.”
Since the most successful cover letters are usually more conversational than formal, it can be good to leave this one behind. “If you know the name of the hiring manager, use that. But if you don’t, you really don’t need to go to great lengths to try to track it down,” says Green. In instances where you have no idea who’s in charge of the process, she recommends starting off with “Dear hiring manager” instead.
2. Inject some personality that plays to your strengths.
A cover letter that repeats what’s on your résumé is a wasted opportunity to shine. “When you’re facing hundreds of generic form cover letters that summarize résumés, one written using a conversational tone, like it’s by a real person, is incredibly refreshing,” says Green. To catch the hiring manager’s attention, add interesting tidbits that give a glimpse of who you are while also emphasizing why you’d be excellent in the position. Think of it as showing instead of telling—you’re not just saying you’re qualified, you’re backing it up with examples.
Green remembers one woman who pulled this off pretty flawlessly. “Once when I was hiring for an assistant job, a candidate mentioned that her friends teased her about her obsessive organization because she color-coded her closet and kept her music catalogued on a spreadsheet,” says Green. “That’s not the sort of thing that you’d put on a résumé, but it quickly gave me a sense of who she was and why she might be a great fit for a job that required organizational skills.” Thanks to those kinds of compelling details (in addition to other awesome qualities, of course), the candidate ended up scoring the job.
That’s not to say you can’t touch on various details of your past roles! You can and should, but instead of standing alone, each one should be fleshed out to give the hiring manager a better picture of who you are. Maybe you talk about how thanks to your meticulous research, a recent presentation you made clinched a major deal for your office. Or perhaps this is your chance to mention how your career trajectory points to a long-held interest in what the company does. Whatever it is, that extra information can help you stand out in a good way.