1. Get an introduction. It's difficult to know someone at every company you wish to work, but you can know somebody who knows somebody. That is, get an introduction to prospective employers from your friends, family and colleagues. Using LinkedIn is an option, but it's often better to craft personal emails to your network stating what you're interested in. Try emailing close mentors, but also weak acquaintances with this script:
I am looking to leave my full-time job at Company B, and was wondering if you knew of any social media or marketing jobs, or if there were any consulting or freelance projects available? I'd love to stay in the world of e-commerce, if possible.
Wanted to put my feelers out...
Thanks in advance!
You don't need to explain that you hate your job or why you're leaving. State simply what you're looking for in your next position. Once you get an introduction or someone has put in a good word for you, reference that person at the beginning of your cover letter. Start your note with something like:
I am very interested in joining Company X as an Account Executive. I learned about this position from Jane Smith.
And then make sure your cover letter really knocks it out of the park. Forget about impressing human resources; make sure that your cover letter makes the person who told you about the position proud. When you make other people look good, they will continue to recommend and promote you.
2. Summarize your experience in three bullets. Your cover letter is your chance to explain exactly why you are the best person for the job, and while it's important to customize your résumé, it's even more important to customize your cover letter. Try picking three desired qualifications from the job description, and organizing your note under those three bullets. For example, your headings might read:
1) Solid foundation and proven results in sales and marketing
2) Outstanding performance as an enthusiastic and creative self-starter
3) Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
Not only does this give you a logical and easy way to structure your letter, but it also allows a prospective employer to see that you've researched the position and clearly understand how you will bring value.
3. Promote yourself unabashedly. Under each heading in your cover letter, describe specific stories and examples that illustrate why your experience and skills exemplify what the company is looking for. Don't be afraid to highlight experience that may not be a perfect fit. This is your opportunity to explain why that retail job taught you stellar communication skills you can use in a business development position, or show how your side project or volunteer work proves you're a self-starter. Here's an example paragraph of a salesperson who wants to transition to nonprofit fundraising:
With no prior sales or marketing experience, I filled my pipeline at Company X with innovative social media strategies and beat-the-pavement determination. I led our sales growth 20 percent month-over-month, and increased our pipeline by 60 percent. I'm confident I could employ the same identification, solicitation, cultivation and stewardship strategies to move potential prospects to loyal and enthusiastic donors at Nonprofit Y.
Make sure you include specific results under each heading so that your letter walks your talk. And remember, it's OK to toot your own horn. While it may seem awkward to couch yourself in such promotional terms, be confident in your fit and potential.
These three strategies will ensure your cover letter stands out among hundreds of other applicants. Putting yourself out there and selling yourself in the best possible light is what will unlock that invitation to an interview.
Rebecca Thorman's weekly blog Kontrary offers tips to create the career, bank account, and life you love, and is a popular destination for young professionals. Her goal is to help you find meaningful work, enjoy the heck out of it, and earn more money. She writes from Washington, D.C.