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Forbes Cover Letter Tips From Hiring

Hiring managers don’t just want people who can do the job.

Ideally, they want people who will make their lives easier. People who can hit the ground running, who can go above and beyond the duties listed in the job description, and who can help the team or company hit its goals.

To that end, it’s time to stop drafting cover letters that detail only what you’ve done in the past.

In fact, it might be time to stop drafting cover letters at all.

Liz Ryan, in a recent Forbes article, suggests sending a “pain letter,” instead. In a pain letter, you talk about your hiring manager’s biggest problem and how you, if hired, would plan to solve it. In doing so, you highlight not only your skill set and how it applies to the new position, but also your knowledge of the company and your excitement about coming in and making an instant impact on the job.

“Pain Letter users tell us that their Pain Letters result in callbacks about twenty-five percent of the time. That’s a lot better than their results lobbing resumes into the Black Hole recruiting portals,” Ryan explains. “Better yet, the conversations that result from compelling Pain Letters are more substantive than the cursory screening calls that standard cover letter and resumes generate.”

So, how do you know what an employer’s pain point is? Sometimes, you can tell right from the job description. (Think: “We need to double our team in the next two months and are looking for a recruiter to lead the charge” or “We’re looking for a savvy growth hacker who can help us reach two million users.”)

But other times, you’ll need to do a little digging. See if you can find out who the hiring manager is, then do a little LinkedIn stalking to find people in your network who might know him or her. Once you’ve identified someone, reach out for a quick coffee or call (here’s how) to ask, “I’m applying for the marketing manager job at the Lightning Co. and want to make sure to tailor my application. Do you have any insight into what they’re really hoping for someone to focus on in this role?”

If you don’t have anyone you can ask, you can search for people who hold similar roles at different companies and ask what their biggest challenges are. You’ll probably notice some themes and can hypothesize about the hiring manager’s pain points. Or—you’ve heard it before—do your research, reading press releases, reviews on Glassdoor, and current news about the company. Whether it’s going through layoffs, growing pains, or entry into a new market, learning about the major issues a company is dealing with as a whole will offer a great starting point for understanding the challenges in your potential role.

Once you have that pain point? Get to work describing just how you’ll come in and relieve it. Hop over to Ryan’s article to learn more.

Photo of hand writing courtesy of Shutterstock.

Finally. You found it. The dreamiest dream job that ever waltzed into existence. And you're ready to apply.

You sit down to craft your cover letter, and the primary thought in your mind is: I hope they choose me. I really want this job.

Anxiety floods your body, triggering a rush of paralyzing thoughts and questions: Am I good enough? Do I have the right qualifications ? What if they've already found someone to hire? Am I just wasting my time? What if I sound too casual? Or too formal? Am I just kidding myself? Gah!

What pours out of your fingertips goes something like this:

Dear Sir or Madam,

I am writing to inform you of my interest in applying for the position of social media director at Save the Dolphins. I believe I am highly qualified and possess the necessary skills to meet the criteria you have outlined. Over the past several years, I have refined my ability to…

You stop mid-sentence, realizing that your cover letter sounds totally depressing and awkward. And no wonder! Trying to convince someone that you're "worthy" of respect and attention is—well, totally depressing and awkward!

The good news? There’s a very simple mind trick that changes your entire cover letter-writing approach in an instant.


Pretend that the person you're writing to already loves and respects you. Pretend that the person you're writing to already believes that you're worthy and valuable. Pretend that the person you're writing to doesn't need a big sales pitch.

This person already gets what makes you great. In fact, you're basically already hired! The hiring manager is just curious to learn a teensy bit more about you.

You could even pretend that you just received an email from your soon-to-be boss, saying:

Hey, since you're practically already part of the family, we'd all love to learn a little more about you!

So, tell us: What inspired you to apply for this position? (We're sure glad you did!) What are your big passions, dreams, and goals? Got any ideas on how we could do things even better around here?

We're so curious! We love your smart brain, we value your ideas, and we want to get to know you!

Return to your cover letter draft, start fresh, and see what pours out of your fingertips this time. Now that you’re “pretending,” I’m guessing it’ll be something like this:

To my friends at Save the Dolphins:

When I learned that you were seeking a new social media director, I was over the moon.

Because when I'm not geeking out about the latest Instagram filter or Twitter meme, you can usually find me at the beach—hunting for starfish and sea anemones or catching a wave on my longboard.

Social media and the sea: my two greatest passions. Using one to heal and protect the other? A total dream.

My current role as a marketing manager at Bubbly Cola Co. has been a blessing—for the past three years, I've learned from the best in the business. And while my current position is pretty close to perfect, my supervisor fully supports my desire to find a new role that brings together all of my passions—especially my passion for planet-saving activism. In fact, when I told her about the position at Save the Dolphins, she smiled and said, "You've got to go for this. I'll be furious if you don't."

This is the part where I'm supposed to request an interview and assure you that "references are available upon request." Which is true.

But what I really want to do is offer you a gift : a six-point plan to help your marketing team use social media even more powerfully, starting right now. You can download the plan here . I hope it's helpful and fun. (I certainly had fun creating it!)

Oh, and if you'd like to walk through the plan over coffee, chat more about the open position, or swap stories about swimming with dolphins—I'd be thrilled. Hope to hear from you soon.

Here's to a cleaner sea and greener world,

[Your name here]

The lesson here is this: The next time you need to sell yourself, just tell yourself: They already love and respect me. There’s nothing I need to prove.

It doesn't actually matter if it's true. If pretending helps to pull the words out of your head and onto the page, then it's precisely what you need to do.

Plus, sometimes, fantasizing can lead to real-world results. Try it and see if it works for you!

Want more tips on how to express what makes you great? Hop on Alexandra’s mailing list for positivity-charged scripts and writing prompts. And don’t miss her new book: 50 Ways To Say You’re Awesome .

Photo of woman writing cover letter courtesy of Shutterstock .

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