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When I’m hiring, cover letters can make or break a candidate for me. Resumes rarely convey any personality, and I want to hire someone I’m going to enjoy working with. The cover letter is the best place for me to judge that and get a feel for whether or not this is a candidate I want to interview and get to know better.

Admittedly, some hiring managers say they never even look at cover letters, which has leads many candidates to draft lackluster cover letters or choose not to send one at all when it’s optional. I think that’s a huge mistake.

I get it though—cover letters are hard. So, I’m breaking down my top six tips to crafting a cover letter that grabs attention and gets you that interview.

1. Prove your passion

A genuine passion for sports can be helpful when you’re applying for a job in NIL. Make sure you demonstrate it in ways that differentiate you from fans, however.

The number one mistake I see in cover letters for jobs in the sports industry is just saying you’re passionate about sports. Keeping the box score at every Braves game doesn’t make you cut out for the team’s front office.

Employers want to hire someone who’s passionate about their industry, but just saying you’re passionate doesn’t set you apart from other applicants. Prove it! What has your passion led you to do? Are you interning in the industry in addition to a full-time paying gig in an unrelated industry? Are you taking time out on the weekends to volunteer at industry-related events? Show me you’re passionate, don’t just tell me.

2. Highlight and expand on your resume’s strong points

Don’t use your cover letter to simply repeat the details in your resume in a different format.

Another common mistake I see in cover letters is that it regurgitates information from your resume. Your cover letter is your opportunity to expand upon experiences that can only briefly be covered in your resume.

It also gives you the opportunity to show and not tell about your skills and attributes. For example, your resume might say you developed a new scheduling system. In your cover letter you can explain how when you got to the company they had no scheduling system, leading to problems a, b and c. Then you took the initiative to create a new scheduling system which solved those problems by doing x, y and z.

3. Show off relevant experience

Space is precious in a cover letter. Don’t waste it by including unnecessary details.

Not meeting minimum education requirements might not get you past the screener, but beyond that it’s your experience that counts. An athletic director recently told me he doesn’t even look at the education section of your resume, so it’s safe to say you don’t need to waste time on it in your cover letter. What you should be doing is highlighting experiences that directly relate to skills required to do the job at hand.

My favorite cover letter trick is to pick out 2-3 skills from the job listing and prove to them I have those skills by giving examples from my past experience. If you do this, your cover letter will automatically be better than 90% of the other candidates in the pile, because most people just use the same cover letter for every job.

Need an example?

This might be easiest to illustrate with an example. Let’s say this is one of the bullets in the job posting for job requirements:

  • Experience running social media accounts for at least one sport at the D1 level

Here’s what I might write in response if I was someone with this experience:

Part of my responsibilities as assistant communications director at University X included managing multiple social media accounts for men’s golf, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. When I took over the accounts, I met with our marketing department and the coaching staff to identify goals for the account and the best way to coordinate our efforts. One goal was to attract new followers, which led me to the idea for “lifestyle” posts about each of our student athletes that ultimately resulted in a 225% average increase across all accounts. 

Here’s what I think this paragraph conveys:

  • I not only have experience running social media accounts for a sport at the D1 level, I was also specific about exactly which social media platforms I was using.
  • I took ownership of the accounts. Saying “When I took over the accounts” is a very subtle (but effective) way to convey this.
  • I made it clear that I work well with others and don’t isolate myself to my department by saying I met with the marketing and coaching staffs.
  • I also made it clear that I developed a strategy and wasn’t just throwing up posts willy nilly.
  • I then used one of our goals that we achieved as a specific example, attaching a percentage to it in order to quantify my results. Any time you can include a number of measurement like that, you absolutely should. Even if you were part of a team, claim your achievement as part of the team. Numbers really leap off the page in a cover letter, because they’re so rarely used.

If you have no work experience in sports, focus on skills you’ve gained in other positions that translate into the position for which you’re applying.

4. One page is enough

Your cover letter shouldn’t be more than one page, no matter how much experience you have.

I’ve seen cover letters that do nothing more than state the job the person is applying for and that their resume is attached. I’ve also seen cover letters that span two full pages. They’re both equally bad.

Keep your cover letter to one page. Don’t reduce the font down to 10pt to get it all to fit on one page. Don’t make the margins non-existent either. Just be concise. Don’t repeat something from your resume if you’re not adding relevant information to it. And while you should highlight relevant experience, you don’t need seven examples to make your point.

5. Use your contacts

If you have a contact who may give you the edge in the application process make sure you use it.

It’s all about who you know, so be sure if you’ve got connections you’re working them. If you’ve met the person to whom you’re addressing the cover letter, remind them of how you met. If a friend works for the organization and is passing along your materials, mention it.

6. Show, don’t tell

Passion isn’t the only thing you should be showing instead of telling. Don’t tell the reader you’re proficient with social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram. Anyone can say that. Share about the internship where you created content for the company’s Facebook page and they gained 300 new followers during your tenure. Every time you use an adjective, be sure you’re giving a concrete example to go along with it.

Ready to apply for a job in NIL? Check out our NIL job listings and post your resume.

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