Cover letters can be a tough thing to make your own. How do you straddle the line between being professional and being unique? It’s often impossible to know exactly who is going to read your cover letter, so catering it to the reader means making your best guess as to who that reader is. On top of all that, it’s difficult to say what you need to say in cover letters without seeming self-flattering or awkward.
With all that in mind, we’ve got 6 cover letter themes and their pros & cons, adapted to help you tell your story more effectively.
1. The Young but Excited Professional
If you’re light on experience but high on enthusiasm, don’t worry - that’s very appealing to the right employers. When you’re writing a cover letter in this fashion, be sure not to come up as the youth who knows it all. The risk the employer will see if you sell this theme poorly is that you’ll come into the office and alienate all the more experienced or older employees.
Temper your enthusiasm with talk about learning. And don’t just say “I love to learn!” Prove it! What courses did you take that challenged you in college? What hobbies do you have that require you to push your knowledge or skillset every time you engage? What unique life challenge did you have to face that made you enthusiastic about tackling every challenge ahead?
Show teachability and a drive to improve yourself and you’ll be the young, excited professional that gets hired instead of the one that lost the job because of their bravado.
2. The Emotional IQ Veteran
As experts and their research have come to tell us over the last several years, one of the most important components of team success and productivity is emotional IQ. Emotional IQ is the ability to recognize not just your emotions, intentions, and mood, but that of those around you, and it’s what makes some people so much better than others at mediating arguments, coaching others through tough times, and managing projects and people.
If this is your cover letter theme, know that the hiring managers on the other end will be skeptical. Everyone claims to have emotional IQ, but very few people do. If you don’t have management experience to back it up, you’ll have to prove your social prowess in the interview stage. Either way, if this is your angle, make sure your cover letter is all about the team.
What goals were you able to help others achieve? How many people can you be the connector for, the mentor for, and when have you proven this, either officially or unofficially? There was a time when managing a guild in the World of Warcraft video game was considered a proof of emotional IQ. Whether that’s valid or not, think of other hobby or social parts of your life to find examples of you being the emotional IQ veteran.
3. The ‘Gets Things Done’ Gal or Guy
It’s become more of a fake and boring meme nowadays -- often parroted as “get shit done” -- but there are still roles and employers that require the type of person able to drill out productivity and accomplish multiple things very quickly or in parallel. This applies to multiple industries and types of roles, from the hyper efficient secretary to the get-things-done programmer all the way to the “I manage a billion accounts” social media manager.
If you’re someone who thrives in a get-things-done role, how do you prove that out beyond saying that you get things done? The proof is in the pudding. How many very different things did you accomplish in your last job? What were you responsible for? How many departments did you interact with or projects did you deliver on time or emergencies did you handle? Did you lead just one club in college, or five?
In your cover letter, tell a story about being the person others come to when things need doing and time is running out. Talk about being able to do not just the big tasks but the small ones that others seem to avoid and delay.
4. The Passion Play
Everyone has the dream job or company they want to work for and when they get the chance to write the cover letter, they usually screw it up. Why? Because loving something isn’t enough. It needs to be paired with an expertise and intention that tells the hiring manager it would be a shame to miss out on having you in the office.
Go ahead and start by talking about how much you love the company, but pair it with something actionable you did to display that passion. Did you act as an informal brand ambassador for their products? What results did your advocacy bring? Did your friends buy in or sign up? Did you convert your prior employer into a client?
New to the company but passionate about their mission? Tell a story in your cover letter about how you’ve dedicated a part of your career to advocating for and working towards their goals. Highlight accomplishments you’re proud of, whether through independent efforts or with prior employers, that aligns with their work. It’ll make it that much easier for the hiring manager to imagine you as a valuable member of their team.
5. The Cross-Industry Pro
At some point in their careers, most people end up working in different industries or even looking to make an industry change. When it comes to writing a cover letter that highlights this industry switch, it’s hard to convince a hiring manager that you’re not set in your old industry’s ways. They might be afraid that they’d have to teach you the ropes, even if you have years of experience in your role.
So how do you stop a hiring manager from shying away? Highlight your fresh perspective by bringing up skills learned in your old industry that can be of great use in theirs. Be highly specific about ways that transition would work. New ways of thinking and new blood in a team can bring great results. Play with their imagination by showing what’s possible with your cross-industry skills and fresh perspective.
And remember one big thing about your work in another industry: your rolodex. With you come all your prior connections, whether they come in the form of clients, potential new hires, or experts and decision makers at other organizations. Referencing this as an asset in a cover letter can really catch the reader’s eye, especially if the company is looking to expand their reach. Present those relationships as a goldmine that they can take advantage of.
6. The In-House Entrepreneur
Entrepreneurial work can either look really impressive or really uncertain to potential employers. How you pitch your prior ventures will dictate whether they find that experience a pro or a con. From the hiring manager’s perspective, it’s hard to properly quantify how entrepreneurial activity benefits them. Do that work for them in your cover letter.
It’s not enough to just say that you started your own blog or ran a charity or a startup. Make it really stick by talking up your understanding of building something out of nothing. You know how to spec out a project from beginning to end by yourself. You can hire, build or design product, and handle business development. You can change the way people on a team work and think to encourage more independent creativity.
Weave a narrative of being a mover for people who need someone to execute on big ideas. Hiring managers and their bosses often have projects that they have been eager to put into motion but haven’t found anyone else or the time to do. Your entrepreneurial background can position you as the right person to get the most out-of-reach projects done effectively.