Cover letters offer an opportunity to show the person doing the hiring who you really are. It's a way to be more than the dull list of qualifications that make up your resume.
With a well-crafted cover letter, you can convince someone you are a good fit for a job you may not appear to be qualified for. Your cover letter can answer questions, overcome potential objections, and potentially show a little bit of your personality.
To do that, though, you need to make your cover letter work for you. That means crafting a custom version for every job you apply for, and making sure it's clear you have done that. These three tips won't be needed every time, but any one of them could be the reason you land an interview.
1. Overcome objections
Sometimes when you read a job ad there's a required qualification you just don't have. If the posting calls for "at least two years of management experience" or "classroom teaching experience" and you don't have those, it's best to address the situation.
Explain how your experience substitutes for what the ad is asking for. That won't always work, but addressing the issue gives you a much better chance than ignoring it.
2. Be proactive
A job posting often lays out some of the challenges you will face in the new position. "We're looking for a sales leader who can bring in new customers" tells you what the company wants.
Instead of just saying you are qualified for the position and laying out your past jobs, tell the hiring person exactly what you would do. Take a paragraph to explain how you handled a similar challenge. Be specific, and give hard numbers when it comes to results where possible.
3. Show your true colors
Let your personality come out in your cover letter. You probably don't want to be downright silly, but it's a good idea to not be mechanical. That might mean using a personal anecdote to make a point, or relaying a relevant life experience. It could even mean showing a bit of humor or touching upon how something you do outside the office positively impacts your work life.
Don't spend your whole cover letter on your favorite football team. It's fine, however, to make a joke about how being a lifelong Cleveland Browns fan has taught you resilience.
It's a tool -- use it
Back when I was a newspaper editor who hired people, I was surprised by how many people either did not send a cover letter or sent one that was, to put it kindly, "basic." You may get an interview even with a poor cover letter, but why take that chance?
Put in the work and address the points mentioned in the job ad. Answer any questions that your resume doesn't, and there's a good chance that just making that effort will help you stand out.