The Cover Letter Formula That Works

Nancy Anderson
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A boring cover letter doesn't get you an interview. That may seem like a no-brainer, but it's true because hiring managers may sort through hundreds of these documents for a single job opening. Your introduction must stand out from many others that come down the pipeline to someone's inbox. Here are three ways to make your letter rise above the rest.


A three-tiered system called the problem-agitate-solve formula seems to work for a dynamic cover letter. This method works because it does more than just tout your abilities, it convinces someone responsible for hiring you that you can solve a problem within the company.

1. Problem

The first step in this cover letter is to identify the problem. Start by listing a qualification of yours followed by a problem to solve. For example, "As a veteran of five years at a new car lot, I know how difficult it is to win new customers." This is an example of how to talk about your sales experience while introducing a problem a sales team has, which, in this case, is landing new customers.

This first sentence answers the question, "Why am I working for this company?" or "What problem does this employer need me to solve?" Once you answer this question, the intro to your cover letter becomes clear.

2. Agitate

Once you list a problem, it's time to get someone worked up over what to do about it. List a problem the company has based on what you've researched. Look on the internet, interview potential team members and get to know someone at the firm. Then, you have a better idea of the challenges this employer faces.

The problem-agitate-solve formula is also called a pain letter. This is where you identify the pain a company feels within its market or industry. Sympathize with the employer, but then demonstrate how to get rid of the pain so the firm can move forward to earning a profit.

3. Solve

The last part of your cover letter involves solving the company's pain. Demonstrate how you immediately move into the role to start solving the problem you just pointed out to the hiring manager. First you make the person uncomfortable, but then you reassure the employer by saying you can create a solution.

The last part of your letter is the confident closing. Let the person reading the letter know you're ready, willing and able to help. This encourages the person to get in contact with you so the employer can hear more about your ideas. The interview is when you lay your entire case out on the table as to how you plan to solve the company's problem.

A cover letter offers the perfect opportunity to introduce your talents to a company, but the employer has to recognize how and why it needs your skills. This three-step formula conveys this concept succinctly without wasting someone's time, and it may lead to a call back.

Photo courtesy of Murs Ali Oglu at


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