Yes, we’re all familiar with the form letter that reads like junk mail that most people send along with their resume. There is some disagreement in the career coaching community about the importance of cover letters. Some say it’s a relic from the days of fax machine communication: a formality that is glanced over and forgotten. Others say it’s an integral part of the application progress: a lens that focuses and compliments the resume.
It is up to you as an applicant to decide how you want to be marketed, and how your information is delivered to an employer. But, in the world of competitive job markets, would you risk a possible employment position by not taking your cover letter seriously?
What makes a cover letter stand out?
A good cover letter is a solid first impression, an opportunity to show the reader who you are and where you’re coming from. It’s a chance to display your communication and persuasive writing skills by stating and arguing your case of being the most promising applicant. It will give depth and meaning to the accomplishments on your resume, and help the reader develop a clear understanding of what you have to offer him or her as an employee.
Most cover letters can accomplish the above mentioned criteria within one page using 3 sections: introduction, body, and closing salutation.
1. Introduction: state your case.
This may be the first opportunity for the reader to get to know you. Introduce yourself. Mention any relevant achievements including education, certifications or titles, but save details for the next section.
Tell the reader why you’re writing. Specifically mention the position you’re applying for and how you heard about the opening. If you have a professional contact who notified you about the position and you have permission to mention their name, do so.
2. Body section: argue your case.
You claimed to be a great applicant, now back it up with facts! Describe your skills and achievements that match up with what is required in the job description, and tie together how your past experience will enhance your future work. You may have years and years worth of experience and talents that you find interesting and important, but think of the employer first: What is important to this job? What does the employer need to know? What facts might be extraneous or distract from your argument?
Don’t be afraid to sell yourself! That is the point after all. Many people find this to be the most difficult part of job hunting, and end up downplaying their skills and expertise in an attempt to avoid bragging or flaunting. There’s a difference between being assertive and being cocky. You are trying to persuade the reader that you’re the best fit for the job, don’t sell yourself short!
3. Closing salutation: tie it all together.
Summarize and reinforce your argument, highlighting the most important points you want the reader to leave with. Inquire about or suggest next steps for follow up or future meetings, and include your availability and best method of contact. Be sure to thank the reader for his or her time, and close the letter.
For more information on crafting an effective cover letter, download our cover letter cheat sheet.
Things to remember:
- Be professional, but not robotic. Use your own words and let your personality show through your writing. Your cover letter isn’t a great introduction if it’s too formal and cold.
- Customize your cover letter for each position you apply for. Some of the language may be the same, but don’t make the mistake of a one-size-fits-all cover letter! Rather than remaking your resume for every application, a tailor made cover letter gives the employer a highlight reel that helps to enhance the information on your resume.
- Address your letter to the person accepting your application if you know their name. Otherwise, a simple descriptive heading will do. (Ex: Letter of interest regarding the Part Time Managerial Position jobID#999999) “Dear Sir/Madam”, or “To Whom it may concern” are often very rigid and distant sounding, and we want to avoid that, remember?
- Check your spelling! Check your spelling! Check your spelling! The same goes for any professional document you may be submitting. Any typo reflects poorly on you and your writing skills, so do your best to avoid them!
- Give your cover letter a trial run before sending it out to an employer. Have a friend read over it. What did they learn about you by reading the cover letter? Does it match up with the requirements listed in the job description? Did you miss any typos?
- Know what the potential employer expects in an applicant. If you were given specific instructions to apply, follow them to the letter. Not every field requires a cover letter (technical fields where skills and knowledge speak for themselves) so know your field, and know what is expected of you as an applicant.
Don’t make the mistake of underestimating the importance of your cover letter! Take the time to make the best first impression you and your resume can have!