Write one. Your resume checks off key words and gets your information in front of someone, but it’s not enough to get you an interview. Use the power of the cover letter for your own good (or evil, if you’re applying for a job selling drugs or weapons to kids).
Don’t play Mad Libs. If you found a cover letter template online, odds are, so did a half million other people. Ditch the fill-in-the-blank format and tell your own story, in a way that only you can. You’ll stand out, if for no other reason than your letter isn’t completely cookie-cutter.
Deviate from examples. Read enough cover letters online, and you’ll begin to feel a pattern. The fake-peppy tone, the stuffy sentence structures, and the box-checking formats all blend together in a beige puddle of boring. Now, imagine it’s your job to read these things all day, and you’ll see that a little change in the format will go a long way toward making you the person who gets the interview. But seriously, no comic sans—that font makes you look worse than silly.
Offer something other than your desperate self on a platter. Anything that hints about that fact that you are currently selling plasma in order to pay the electric bill is not a winning tone. Talk about what you can do for the place you want to work, not about how you really need a job. Show you have more to offer than a warm body.
But don’t get creepy. While letting your prospective employer know you’re knowledgeable about the company, adding details about the CEO’s criminal records or the marketing manager’s recent real estate purchases isn’t advised, even though it’s sure to get the attention of your reader. Google-stalk, but don’t stalk-stalk.
Lead with an anecdote—not your qualifications. The cover letter complements your resume. Don’t recreate it with complete sentences in the letter, use this space to tell an opening story that humanizes you and makes you memorable.
And make sure you put in a little personality. You have one. It’s a major part of you. You might as well own it. Besides, people hire people they like, not resumes they like. So relax, get comfortable, and write a letter from a real person—you, not faceless a job candidate.
One last thing: Autocorrect is a pox on all our houses. Read your letter five or six times, and before you send it, just to be safe.