Aaagh! Yes, we're still talking cover letters. In the previous post (Tip #1) we shared how to tailor your Cover Letter for each application.
Now, time for Tip #2…
2. Say Something New; Don't Repeat Your Resume
The opportunity to write a cover letter is actually a great thing (I know, it doesn't feel like it right now!). You suddenly have a whole extra page to tell the Hiring Manager how awesome you are; and how you can help make their team more awesome … so, why repeat the resume? Use this chance to add color and context to your story.
OK … How?
Think about what you want to make sure the Hiring Manager knows about you and your story, that won't be clear from your resume? Maybe you want to demonstrate you're a fast learner, maybe you want to illustrate some softer and/or leadership skills that don't come through explicitly on the resume, maybe you want to explain a gap in your employment history. These, and many more, are instances where the cover letter can be your friend :)
For example, you can illustrate (a) Not only what programming languages you know (which the resume covers), but how quickly you can learn new ones. Your resume will show your experience with Python (albeit not necessarily the full extent) and that you know R, but you won't have space to convey that you had to learn R in a matter of days to get started on a team project. (b) How well you work in teams. Your resume will tell the Hiring Manager that you were part of a team that entered (and won) a recent Data Hackathon. However, you won't have space on your resume to communicate that you teamed up with people you'd never worked with before and, in the space of 24 hours, came up with an idea and executed against it (c) Your passion for statistics. You will use your resume to convey stats courses you've taken, and/or skills/techniques you know. However, your resume won't tell the Hiring Manager that you perhaps didn't have to take any of these - that you pursued them on the side, outside of your job or main course requirements, because you were just deeply interested in the space.
So, for your cover letter these become
- Proven Fast Learner: In my current research role I use Python extensively (sci-kit learn, numpy, pandas), but a recent team project required me to switch to R. It was a short project (3 month duration) so I had to rapidly learn and apply new skills within days. I am therefore very confident that I could quickly ramp up and add value to your team - both in Python-based work; and any other languages/tools you use.
- Highly effective, cross-functional collaborator: I have been part of many team-based projects during school - always seeking opportunities to work with people from different backgrounds. In the recent [x] hackathon, I joined up with 4 cross-disciplinary team members I'd never met before, and together aligned on and executed a prize-winning idea within 24 hours. I believe this versatility will be an asset in working with different teams/functions at [company x]
- Passionate Statistician: I have actively pursued numerous stats courses outside of my main course requirements to build my knowledge base; and frequently applied techniques I've learnt (especially Linear Regression and PCA) in independent project work. I now want to apply this passion in my everyday work - especially in a team like yours that values intellectual excellence.
These examples may not be the ones for you, but use them to stretch your thinking. What is it about you / your story that the resume doesn't do justice to? (And that is relevant!). You ideally want to find 3 skills to highlight in the second paragraph of the cover letter that make you the perfect candidate, so examples such as the above that take the resume, but push it further, are the instances you're looking for to really stand out.
How to take action now!
Let's get really specific … for whatever job application you're currently working on … Think about a close friend or family member - one who thinks very highly of you! If they were to describe your strengths, what would they say? List out the adjectives / terms you think they'd use on a sheet of paper. Now, look at the list, and think about it from the point of view of the Hiring Manager. If you were the Hiring Manager, which would you care about the most? Once you have that, build a bullet point sentence around it [Headline skill/strength]: [Description that showcases it] - just like the ones above; but for you :)