Almost any cover letter advice handed off by counselors and career advisors will offer a version of this time-tested rule: Rely on your connections. Open your letter with a reference to a mutual colleague, or a moment during a long-ago networking event when you met and shared pleasantries with the person who’s now reading your resume and holding your future in his or her hands. If you know your reader personally or through a mutual friend, say so.
But of course, this is easier said than done. And there are plenty of socially awkward ways to pursue this route that can cause more harm than good. Meanwhile, what should you do if you and your reader don’t share any mutual connections at all? Here are five considerations that can help you navigate the art and science of the cover letter name-drop.
1. If you think you have nothing in common with your reader, think again. Many job seekers, especially at the entry level, assume that they have absolutely no personal connection to the hiring manager reviewing their application. But before you decide to give up on this advantage, take a closer look. If you know the person’s name, do a quick Google search. Look over the person’s profile on LinkedIn. You may not have any personal friends or coworkers in common, but check before you miss an opportunity.
2. Personal connections aren’t always people. Maintain a flexible definition of this term, and tune into overlaps between her life and yours that aren’t necessarily human beings. Did you attend the same alma mater? Did she once work for the company as your sister? Even if you can’t claim that this distant connection makes you buddies, at least it gives you some insight into what she’s like to work for. And sharing this detail might give her some insight into your personality and your potential as a cultural fit.
3. Lay subtle emphasis on any of your former employers, projects, or mentors who have big names in this field that she may recognize.
4. Don’t be oily. Describing a connection in a straightforward way and trying to claim a close “friendship” are two very different things. You won’t be hired just because you and the manager attended the same university, or once spent a few hours at the same conference. So watch out for statements that suggest entitlement or demand. But a casual mention of this overlap can add some warmth to your message.
5. Mention your connections in the beginning of your letter—and then move on. Don’t put off this detail, but don’t confuse connections with credentials. As you list your hard qualifications for this position, leave your shared personal background behind. In cover letters as in life, success lies in details and timing.
A Strong Resume Is Your Greatest Ally
A few impressive names and personal connections can get your cover letter the extra attention it needs, but remember: Nothing puts your letter—and your candidacy—in the winner’s circle faster than a great resume. Visit MyPerfectResume for formatting tools and resources that can help you make a strong impression.
ABOUT JEFF ALTMAN, THE BIG GAME HUNTER
Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a coach who worked as a recruiter for what seems like one hundred years. His work involves career coaching, all as well as executive job search coaching, job coaching, and interview coaching. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2100 episodes, and is a member of The Forbes Coaches Council.
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