Cover Letter Conundrums (Part 1 of 3)

By Mary Carden, CPRW

There are a thousand “how to write a cover letter” tutorials on the Internet, but most of them offer the same tired advice that results in unremarkable, cookie-cutter letters. It’s true that every cover letter needs to fulfill three main goals:

      1.  Introduce yourself, your experiences, and your qualifications for the role
      2. Share your reasons for pursuing a position at this company
      3. Differentiate yourself from other candidates

While writing a cover letter that addresses those three objectives is important, this guide discusses other ways you can use your cover letter to advance your application, build a relationship with the hiring manager, and streamline the recruitment process for everyone involved.

Ultimately, remember that the hiring manager or recruiter is also a human being who understands that life can be messy, circumstances can be complicated, and applicants don’t come in “one size fits all.” They want to place the best person in this role, and any information you can share with them will help them to make that happen with the least amount of friction and misunderstanding. In almost all cases, it’s best to be up-front about your circumstances so they can meet you where you are.

In the first installment in this three-part series, I’m going to discuss the most straightforward scenarios you might need to discuss in your cover letter: tricky logistical issues.

1. I live far away and will need to relocate for this job. I will/will not need relocation assistance.

I began this list with the easiest topic to cover. This one only requires a single sentence! State in plain language where you live, whether you plan to relocate, and whether you will need relocation assistance from the company.

For example: you grew up in Texas, currently live in New York, and are applying for a job back in Texas. You can say, “I spent the majority of my life in Dallas and have many good connections with friends and family in that area. I will have no trouble relocating to DFW upon accepting this job.”

2. I’m a student finishing my degree this year and won’t be available to work until I graduate.

In their senior year, most students begin their job search in their final semester, often starting five or even six months in advance. This can be tricky to navigate when you aren’t able to start working for several months. Be up-front about your availability, state when you will finish your program, and offer any additional context necessary to understand your circumstances as a student.

 3. I applied and went through the interview process for a position at this company in the past, but didn’t get the job.

In many application portals, you’ll see a question like this in the applicant questionnaire: “Have you ever applied for a position at Microsoft in the past?” What a loaded question! If you previously pursued a job with a company and didn’t land the job, it can feel awkward to share that information. Rest assured, no hiring manager will think less of you for a previous unsuccessful application. After all, job openings can receive hundreds or even thousands of applications.

This is another situation where a short and plain-language explanation is the best approach. State which job you applied for, when that was, and the outcome. Then, describe how you have become a more qualified candidate since then. Have you learned any new skills or languages? Gained additional experience in a niche field or industry? Made a valuable connection? Make the argument that, although you weren’t a good fit for the company in the past, you are a good fit now.

 4. I have an inside connection at the company. / Someone referred me for this job.

Congratulations! One of the best ways to get your application moved to the top of the pile is to be referred by a current employee. Networking on LinkedIn, your university’s alumni network, or a local volunteer organization is a great way to meet people who can give you that valuable connection. Express that connection in plain language:

“I was referred to this position by Sarah Smith, who works in the Sales department. Sarah and I worked together for two years in my prior role at Rover.”

If you’ve already chatted with Sarah about the open position, or if she had any specific praise about the company, you could share those details as well. It’s a good way to show that you’re engaged.

 5. I’m currently employed and need to keep my job search a secret.

It’s a reality that many employees fear retaliation from their employers if their plans to jump ship are revealed. Hiring managers are people too, and most understand that you may not want your current employer to find out that you’re looking for work elsewhere. In your cover letter, you can note that your job search is not public and politely ask the hiring manager not to contact your current employer.

You can express it like this: “I would prefer not to list my current employer’s contact information until a job offer is received.”

6. I have a disability and will need special accommodation during the recruitment/interview process.

The ADA applies to all aspects of employment, including job advertisements, job applications, job interviews, and post-offer medical examinations. According to the EEOC, you only have to let your potential employer know that you need an adjustment to the hiring process for a reason related to a medical condition. In your cover letter or in a private email to the hiring manager, state your request in plain English. You don’t have to mention the ADA, disclose your disability, or use the phrase “reasonable accommodation.”

Many job ads will include some text (usually near the bottom) with additional instructions for those who require additional help. Do your research ahead of time to make sure you’re getting in contact with the right person to handle your request.

In the next installment of “Cover Letter Conundrums,” I’ll tell you how to handle more challenging situations you might encounter while writing your cover letters. If you find yourself asking, “Am I the right person for this job?” stay tuned to read more.

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About Mary Carden, CPRW – Mary Carden is a resume writer and job search strategist. Her clients have achieved professional success securing interviews and job offers in virtually every industry. At the time of writing this blog post, she has written more than 500 cover letters, ranging from entry-level “first job out of college” applications to global searches for chief executive positions at Fortune 500 companies.

Author: Mir Garvy

I’ve written resumes for 2,000+ job seekers just like you—and helped my clients land jobs with companies like Amazon, SAS, Google, Duke University, Travelocity, Cisco Systems, GlaxoSmithKline, Expedia, and IBM.