How to write the cover letter that got me 3 full-time remote jobs

Hiring managers at remote companies don’t want a cover letter. What they want is to get a sense of who you are, what you’ve done, and what you can do.

When you send the kind of cover letter you were taught to write in high school and college, you look like every other applicant. You look like you’re not worth more time than the cover letter before yours that was trashed.

So you have to give hiring managers something different…

During my remote job searches, I found that conversational writing works best for capturing the attention of hiring managers. If you write your cover letter like you speak, like how you tell a story — and say what you mean without putting it through a “formality filter” — you’ll get more responses to your application.

After switching from sending traditional cover letters to stories about my professional life, my calendar filled up with interviews. Hiring managers became interested in me, even for positions I clearly wasn’t qualified for.

Remember: We aren’t applying to traditional jobs here. These are companies with innovative and disruptive work cultures. To get their attention, you have to disrupt what is expected by them: the boring cover letter.

Before you write the cover letter

List your differentiators

You’re the best candidate for the positions you’re applying to because you have a combination of professional practices, beliefs, skills and accomplishments that no one else has.

What are they? Write them down. Be specific and succinct. Having a list of differentiators makes writing an effective cover letter easier.

Here are the differentiators I wrote down before writing the cover letter for my previous job search:

  • I like having hard-number goals (i.e. responsible for generating $100K by end of quarter)
  • I only publish content I would read
  • I spend 50% of my time creating content, 50% promoting it
  • I was the content marketer at a content-driven company that got acquired
  • I created multiple pieces of content that stayed at #1 on Hacker News
  • I created content that was linked to by the Google Developer team

Most job seekers make the mistake of referencing generic skills and personality traits in their cover letter. This makes them forgettable because other applicants are listing off the same skills and adjectives.

When writing down your differentiators, reference accomplishments, idiosyncrasies, and specific approaches you take as a professional.

If you write down all of your differentiators, you’ll have a clear idea of why you’re qualified for the jobs you’re applying to. This will come across when you write your cover letter and create your resume.

Action step: Write down all of the differentiators you can think of. You don’t have to be directly responsible for everything you write down. Connect yourself to success, like how I said that I was the content marketer for a company that got acquired. When possible, be as specific as possible, but keep every differentiator to one line. If it’s more than one line, that probably means you’re pulling for things that aren’t there.

Create linkable assets

Your cover letter is your sales letter. You want to have the hiring manager read all the way through it, and when they’re done reading, you want to give them something else to read. The more time they spend focused on you, the more likely they are to invite you to an interview.

To give them something else to read, you need to link to samples of your work or additional information about yourself that lives online — and I’m not talking about social media profiles (unless you’re a social media marketer and that’s relevant to the job).

The easiest way to create linkable assets is to create a simple website. Starting out, all you need is a homepage (here’s mine), a portfolio (here’s mine), and a few “showcase pages” (here’s one example and another example).

If you don’t know how to create a website, you can create one following this extensive tutorial. If you’re not familiar with launching websites, give yourself 4 hours to do this.

Or you can take the easier route and create a WordPress.com account. This is a free website option. When you pick your WordPress URL, try to make it like the following structure: yourname.wordpress.com. If the URL doesn’t exist, create a close variation.

Here are some things you can link to in your cover letter:

  • Articles or podcasts you’re featured in. These can be about your professional self or projects you’ve worked on that were covered by bloggers, podcasters, or the media. In some older versions of my cover letter, I included a podcast interview I did.

  • Blog posts that detail how you achieved something. You can create this once you have your website. For instance, after I used Twitter Ads to 13x engagement for product announcements at a company I worked at, I wrote about how I did it. (It’s easy to publish blog posts once you have a website.)

  • Samples of your work. If there’s something you created that lives online, link to it. For me, this mostly includes blog posts I’ve published on company blogs (example) and links to forums where a community discussed my blog post (example).

You can also link to a tweet of someone praising you, a page on your website that has a testimonial from a manager or client, a private YouTube video in which you introduce yourself. Basically, include anything that’s about you and lives online.

I recommend adding 2-3 links to external resources in your cover letter if possible.

I’ll show you an example of how I link to some of these assets in my cover letter example below. But first, let’s go over the difference between the cover letters most of us were taught to write and cover letters that work.

This will help you craft the latter.

Cover letters vs stories

I understand now why my post-college job hunt took so long. I was selling myself wrong. I was selling myself like everyone else was selling themselves. I didn’t stand out. I was stale, boring, cookie cutter.

In fact, I wasn’t even selling myself — I was dissuading hiring managers from hiring me.

Stories sell. What I was creating was something far from a story. It was a bland explainer about my excitement for the job and why I was qualified “on paper.” I didn’t say why I was really excited and why I was really qualified.

In a nutshell, I used adjectives over anecdotes. Anyone can use an adjective in a cover letter, but not everyone can use a story. Stories are real. Stories are what get you an interview.

After graduating, based on advice given to me by professional college career counselors, I sent out cover letters that looked like this…

My name is [your name]. I am thrilled to be applying for the [position] role in your company. After reviewing your job description, it’s clear that you’re looking for an enthusiastic applicant that can be relied upon to fully engage with the role and develop professionally in a self-motivated manner. Given these requirements, I believe I am the perfect candidate for the job.

I am a [insert positive trait] college student [(insert GPA, [major])] currently attending [college_name]. Throughout my academic career, I have been consistently praised as [insert positive trait] by my professors and peers. While working on academic and extracurricular projects, I have developed proven [insert 1-3 soft skills] skills, which I hope to leverage into the [position] role at your company.

After reviewing my resume, I hope you will agree that I am the type of positive and driven candidate that you are looking for. I am excited to elaborate on how my specific skills and abilities will benefit your organization. Please contact me at [PHONE] or via email at [EMAIL] to arrange for a convenient meeting time.

Thank you for your consideration, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Source: Resume Genius (Don’t use these examples!)

I cringe when I read this. Everything is wrong with this approach, most notably…

  • Too formal, almost robotic (this is not how humans speak)
  • Adjectives are used in places of stories (enthusiastic, self-motivated, perfect)
  • Too much flowery, bubbly language (love, thrilled, hope)

And this is just half of the problem with cover letters that many of us are taught to write. The other half is what comes at the top of the page — a formal header with 200+ characters of unnecessary information, like this…

Example of unnecessary cover letter headline and contact information

Source: Resume Genius

The hiring manager already knows their address. The hiring manager already knows what the date is and what their full name is. You don’t need to tell them. As for important contact information like your city (not address), phone number, and email address, this can just live on your resume.

Knowing what I know now, if I was to write a cover letter for post-graduate job opportunities, it would look something like this:

Hey {{First Name}}!

I’m amped about the {{Position}} opening.

Nearly everything that {{Company}} publishes is immediately valuable. This kind of content marketing is rare today. Instead of just publishing content to meet an editorial schedule, you prioritize quality. Like this post about {{Subject}}: {{URL1}}. It taught me more about {{Subject}} in 5 minutes than 5 chapters in a book ever could.

To give you a little background about myself: I just graduated with a formal education in creative writing, which, before finding this position, didn’t make too much sense to me. Creative. Formal. How can you tell stories in a formal/business environment? But now, seeing that businesses like {{Company}} exist, it makes sense.

Content marketing is a profession that I can wear like my favorite shirt. It’s the perfect combination of storytelling and business. I learned the art of storytelling in university as a creative writing major and am quickly learning how to approach it from a marketing standpoint. Here are some of my thoughts on storytelling and business: http://mywebsite.com/blog-post-about-storytelling-and-business

To be honest, I thought I would be working at Starbucks and trying to write a Michael Chabon-like novel in my parent’s basement, but now I’ve found this new thing called content marketing. And I’m good at it. I’m engaged. I’m halfway through the Content Marketing University course and I’ve never been more focused.

To prove this, I’d love to work on a test project together. {{Company}} is doing things that are meaningful to me and I want to be part of that.

Rob

Some parts of this are a little cheesy, but I whipped it up in about five minutes. That said, I’m confident that this cover letter would have gotten me hired in 3 weeks out of college as opposed to 3 months. Plus it would have helped me get a job with a company I actually cared about.

The companies I worked for out of college sucked, which makes sense, because my cover letter and resume sucked. They attracted sucky rather than sexy companies.

Note: I’m using variables — {{variable}} — in the cover letter for a reason. Doing this will allow you to send dozens of custom emails to different companies in one click. I show you how to do this on Day 6 of my 7-day remote job course.

Now let’s pick this cover letter apart. Even if you aren’t applying to remote positions out of college and are further along in your career, the same best practices apply to all types of cover letters.

  • Use anecdotes in place of adjectives. Instead of calling my discovery of content marketing “revolutionary,” I say that “I thought I would be working at Starbucks and writing the next Michael Chabon-like novel in my parent’s basement.” Here it’s implied that discovering content marketing is responsible for changing the trajectory of my life, plus it makes me more personable and memorable.

    Instead of saying that I’m “excited” about the prospect of being a content marketer, I say “I’m halfway through the Content Marketing University course and I’ve never been more focused.” Here it’s implied that I’m excited about it because I’ve gone beyond my formal education to start a course dedicated to content marketing.

  • Mention the company and a specific detail about it. The first paragraph is dedicated to the company I’m applying to. It explains why I’m excited about working for them. It shows that I did some light research on the company, which is more research than many applicants do. It also rubs the back of my hiring manager who is probably responsible for publishing blog posts at the company.

  • Links to outside assets. In the example above, I link to a (non-existent) blog post related to the position I’m applying for. A linkable asset like this, as discussed above, will give the hiring manager an opportunity to spend more time learning about me.

  • Write like you speak. Notice the difference between my cover letter and the traditional cover letter. Stories are told in a conversational way, and because you’re telling a story instead of writing a cover letter, you need to write like you speak. It will seem awkward at first, but it’s effective.

To get good at writing like you speak, I recommend reading the Gary Halbert Letters. Just read one or two to get into the flow. Halbert is a famous copywriter who is good at getting people to take action with words.

Recipe for the perfect cover letter

There’s no word-for-word template you can follow to sell yourself to companies in your cover letter. Everyone has different careers, different aspirations, and different histories. Everyone has different stories. However, there is a format you can follow.

Paragraph by paragraph, this is the format that has helped me get hiring managers at remote companies to respond to my applications:

Hey {{Name}}!

1 I just spent some time checking out {{Company}} and immediately started thinking of ways I can help grow {{Company}} as a content marketer.

2 Here’s one idea that’s really sticking with me: {{Idea}}

3 To give you a little background about myself: I like having hard-number goals (i.e. responsible for generating $100K by end of quarter), I was the content marketer at a content-driven company that got acquired, and I created multiple pieces of content that stayed at #1 on Hacker News.

4 I recently did a podcast interview about my beliefs as a content marketer and how I approach content initiatives for the company I currently work at, MaxCDN. You can see a more detailed list of my skills and accomplishments on my resume.

5 I really like you, so if you really like me, we should chat. I have a flexible schedule this week, so just let me know what day and time work for you. You can email me or send me a calendar invite at gibbiv@gmail.com.

Looking forward to speaking with you, {{Name}}!

Rob

Alright, so let’s break this down…

  1. Researching the company sets you apart from 90% of other candidates who apply to a position without learning about what the company actually does.

  2. Suggesting an idea to help the company grow puts you on the shortlist of candidates. Even if the hiring manager doesn’t agree with your idea, it shows that you have ideas and are interested in what the company is doing.

  3. Now is the time to be selfish. You rubbed their back a little and now they’re interested in you. Give them your best. Pull three things from the list of differentiators you put together before. (Notice how I did that above.)

  4. Link out to additional content that supports what you say in paragraph 3. (In my remote job course I show you how to create an online resume that you can link to. At a bare minimum, you should be linking to this.)

  5. This is the call-to-action. What do you want them to do? Entice them to take action now and schedule an interview with you. You can also say that you’re interested in working on a test project like I did in the post-college example.

Action step: Create a cover letter using the format above and add it to a Google Doc named “Cover Letter”.

Note: If a company asks you to send your cover letter and resume to a specific person via email, use your cover letter template as your email message and only attach your resume.

Save answers to screening questions

There are hundreds of job platforms where remote jobs are posted. To apply, different things are required by each platform.

Some only require a resume. Some only require an opening message (or cover letter). Some require both. And some require you to answer specific questions about why you’re a good fit for the job.

You’ll come across many of the same questions during your remote job hunt. To save time, save these questions and your responses in a Google Doc called “Interview Q&A”.

I didn’t do this when applying to remote jobs and, looking back, it would have saved me a few hours. These are hours I could have spent finding and applying to more remote jobs.

Action step: Create a new Google Doc titled “Interview Q&A”.

Share your cover letter for feedback

When you have your cover letter, go ahead and share it in the Remote Job Course Facebook Group for feedback.

In the Google Doc you have your cover letter in, give commenting rights to people who view your cover letter.

To do this, click Share in the top right part of your Doc. Then click Get Shareable Link and change the setting to “Anyone with the link can comment”. After this, click Done.

If you have some extra time today, I recommend taking a stab at creating a professional website so you can add some linkable assets to your cover letter. You can go ahead and follow this tutorial for creating a site/blog or take the easier route and create a WordPress.com site.



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