How to write a stand-out cover letter

cover letter sept19When applying for a job, standing out from the crowd is necessary, but not easy.

One important way to differentiate yourself is with your cover letter or cover email. A strong cover letter can actually make things easier for a recruiter to view your credentials against the specific requirements for the job.

Use the “T-format” (also referred to as the “Q letter”), and you’ll literally take the reader's eyes straight from each of their requirements to your relevant experience – making it easy for them to assess and say “yes.”

The 3-part T-format cover letter

Most recruiters like this type of cover letter because it is so to the point.

This should consist of a one-page letter with plenty of white space – white space makes the content stand out – focusing on what you think is most important to the employer.

The three parts are:

1. Short opening paragraph: Begin your cover letter with a strong opening paragraph that specifies the job you are applying for and provides a good reason to continue reading. For example:

Your very interesting Senior Development Manager opportunity caught my eye this morning. As a senior fundraising officer with 10 years of experience in the discipline, my experience matches your requirements. For three years I have been leading the Organization XYZ fundraising team, with over $2.5 million in revenue generated for each of the last 2 years, well above our goals.

2. Requirements/qualifications matches: Review the job description and make a list of the key requirements. This shouldn't be an exhaustive list: Identify the top three or four things the job requires. Against each one of those requirements, identify specific experience you possess that’s relevant to the requirement. 

Present them on the page in a way that is clear and stands out. Remember to be brief but accurate: It may be necessary to reduce the company's requirements and your experience to a few words in order to fit this layout, as in the example below:

Your Needs:

My Qualifications:

5+ years fundraising experience

2 years as Senior Development Officer, promoted after 3 years to Director of Donor Relations; over 11% increase in total funds raised each year [Organization XYZ].

Strong interpersonal skills

3 years team leader; $2.5m raised annually while supervising team of 3; coordinating efforts of executive and marketing teams with development team.

Their third requirement

Third way your experience qualifies you for the job.

3. Positive closing paragraph: Continue to express your interest, enthusiasm, and fit. Add a strong, positive closing paragraph or two emphasizing what you know about yourself and your ability to contribute. For example:

I know that this opportunity will leverage my experience in fundraising, my MBA from [ABC University], and my passion for helping excellent causes secure the resources they need. I look forward to hearing from you and discussing this opportunity in detail.

Add an appropriate business closing and your signature, with your LinkedIn profile URL and personal phone number.

The Bottom Line

In any job application, your objective is to capture the recruiters' attention and make it easy to say “yes.” What could make it easier than a short list of their needs and how your specific experience matches each one?

These letters get attention largely because they don't require much eye time. With lots of white space, they are very much like reading newspaper headlines; the eyes quickly grasp what is being presented, leading to fast assessments. Presumably, that attention moves your resume to the "Contact" pile while others are moved to the "No thanks" pile.

Sandra A. MacKay is an independent recruiter and outplacement counselor in Massachusetts, and a contributor at Job-Hunt.org.

This article originally appeared in a slightly different form on Job-Hunt.org.

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