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To Write an Authentic Cover Letter, Start With Your Gut

“Please send us a cover letter.” Six words that job applicants expect to see, but dread them all the same.

You can exceed all the qualifications for a job, but writing? That’s not your bag. This discomfort makes a lot of us follow cookie cutter templates for cover letters and professional bios. If you use a generic template to format your cover letter, you will likely sound as fit for the part as anyone. But it’s competitive out there—what is the advantage of sounding just like anyone?

A cover letter is your opportunity to stand out. It provides insight to prospective employers on what it would be like to have you around the office. This is as significant a contributor to the hiring process as your qualifications. Employers sift through plenty of resumes of well-qualified applicants, oftentimes using computer algorithms as a filter. It’s your cover letter that can make you stand out. Here, you can give your experience compelling context. Your qualifications and experience can always be matched, but no one followed your exact path. Your differentiator is found in storytelling. Tell a great story.

So, what makes your story unique? And how do you write it to compel a specific employer? Well, you can try taking a basic cover letter and adding wit or charm, but I wouldn’t suggest it if you’re not witty or charming. Whatever you plan to do to grab their attention, it must be authentic to who you are. Most of us have innate skills that can’t be reflected on a resume, but they may just be our competitive advantage. Don’t wait to be invited for an interview to showcase them.

To identify these skills, think about what your friends rely on you for or what you bring to the table in your most meaningful relationships. If you’re not sure, ask them. Many of us aren’t even aware of the tremendous value we provide to our friends, but it is here that we find a special skill set that has likely been as significant to our chosen professional path as anything. Once you acknowledge these skills, take the ones that match the culture and values of the employer you’re writing to, and apply them to your story.

Lastly, don’t be afraid to take chances. An unexpected opening sentence, unique formatting, or even a funny metaphor can go a long way in getting that first interview. Sit down and brainstorm some clever ideas for your cover letter and run them by a few trusted professionals and/or a mentor. Then incorporate the ones you like best into your cover letter or bio.

When you trust yourself to develop something that is authentic to who you are, you’ll find yourself writing with confidence--and confident writing is better writing.

Be smart and declarative, proofread your writing over and over and then proofread it again, before having someone else proofread it. But don’t be afraid to let your gut instinct lead the way. After all, when employers are done reviewing all the well qualified candidates like yourself, the only thing left is gut instinct.

At some point, resumes are indiscernible from each other, but your story is always your own. It’s where employers get to hear what makes you exceptional. Don’t pass on a golden opportunity to tell them.

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