Even in the digital era of professional websites, portfolios, social media and networking, some companies still require a cover letter with job applications. Along with a resume and portfolio, the three of these may comprise the “official” package for send-off to an HR recruiter or hiring manager (“official” because there are several other things that come into play like your online presence, social media, mutual connections, etc.) Each part of the package serves a different purpose for getting your foot in the door and landing an interview. The portfolio showcases your expertise and experience, and the approach you take in your work. The resume is a concise summary of your professional experience and skill set. The cover letter is an opportunity to tell your story – to succinctly and thoughtfully explain why you are interested in a particular company/role, make an argument for why you should be considered, and show how you can help solve a business problem. This means that it usually takes time and effort to write a good one.
As time consuming as it can be, it’s worth it. The more cover letters you write (and look at for ideas), the more you write in general, and the more experience you have, the better you get at cover letters. You eventually finding your cover letter voice – a style and approach that works for you.
Here’s a few useful pointers to start – I’m hoping people know at least some of these things already from browsing around on the web and using common sense, but I do believe some of them aren’t discussed as often as they should be.
Cover letter definites:
- Convey your passion for your craft, and your enthusiasm for the job and company at hand
- Approach the letter as a story rather than a list of items to regurgitate
- Personalize it – no boiler plates, even if the roles you are applying for are the same – it’s easy to tell whether or not someone’s put effort into the writing, tone and showing they know something about the company
- Communicate a sense of your professional self with a bit of personality – sound like a human being!
- Address the main requirements of the position as outlined in the job description – especially helpful for HR folks who recruit for a wide variety of roles/teams
- Say what the specific job is – include a reference number if there is one – especially important at large companies
- For consistency, match the font style to the one on your resume
- Follow directions – if you’re asked to address a specific question or topic in your cover letter, do it! Examples: Tell us about a great customer experience you had recently, tell us about an interesting project you worked on where you learned something surprising, tell us why you want to work here, etc.
- Include project examples/achievements that are relevant to the job you want
- Mention relevant connections – e.g., a current employee who referred you to the role
- Save it as a PDF before sending
Cover letter don’ts:
- Re-hash exactly what’s on your resume
- Go beyond a single page unless you have to (e.g., they ask you to address something that requires more space)
- Make it too salesy
- Be afraid of singing your praises, but stay humble
- Forget who your audience is/could be
Here are three cover letter examples from UX research jobs I applied to in the past couple years (click for PDFs).
In this letter, I mention the person who referred me to the company (a current employee) and the reason why I left my last job (lay-offs). Since this was a freelance researcher role on the agency side, I focused on industries I’ve worked in, clients I’ve worked for, and projects I’ve done to showcase versatility and variety.
This cover letter is two pages long because I had to address two specific questions in addition to including the regular stuff. I like this one for a few reasons: 1) I come right out and say why this organization stands out to me (hence, why I’m applying) in the first paragraph. 2) I take the opportunity to show that I’m well-versed in the various roles a UX researcher might play in an enterprise setting, from designing research to working with stakeholders to making recommendations. 3) My research approach and passion for user-centered design is strong and clear.
This one is essentially the second example, but without the additional information requested for the job application.
What would you add to the above list? What would you have done differently? Also, if you have any cover letter examples you would like to share, please do so, especially if they are related to user experience research/design.