You’ve perfected your resume. You’re actually pretty proud of it. It outlines your experience in vivid detail, is chock full of action verbs, and matches your personal brand to a tee. You’re ready to apply to your dream job now, right? Not quite so fast!
There’s still one crucial element you’re forgetting: your cover letter. Yep, that’s right, the dreaded cover letter. Many applicants don’t bother, thinking that hiring managers will never read them. There are contradictory statements out there about the value of cover letters. You can bounce from one article that says “cover letters are an essential piece of your job hunt” to another that proclaims “cover letters are a relic of the past.” So which is it? Are cover letters actually worth including?
The short answer: yes.
The long answer: though not all hiring managers read them the first pass over your resume, a cover letter will become more important as candidates are eliminated. When the pool is narrowed down to the best candidates, one of whom included a cover letter, and one of whom didn't, who do you think seems like the most passionate candidate? So yes, there’s still value in cover letters.
Stifle your groans. Writing a cover letter doesn’t have to be painful if you follow this simple structure.
the greeting: personalize it for the job
The greeting is an oft missed opportunity. Once upon a time (a long, long time ago) it was trendy to address your cover letter “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Hiring Manager.” Don’t do this. In most cases (with a little searching) you should be able to find a hiring manager’s name.
On LinkedIn, for instance, it’s often the person who posted the job. On Randstad, you’ll find a recruiter’s name on the bottom of each job listing. A personal greeting goes a long way in showing you put some effort in. If you can’t find a name, a simple greeting to ‘[company name] Hiring Manager’ will suffice.
the intro: why do you want this job?
Introduce yourself (briefly!) and explain why you’re applying for this job. You have less than a page to explain why you’re right for this role and show your passion. Don’t waste it with pleasantries or rambling about yourself. Get right to the point – explain who you are and why you want the job you’re applying for.
In this section, also make sure to mention the job title and company you’re applying at by name. Hiring managers can spot a generic cover letter a mile away. A lack of personalization indicates you’re using an identical cover letter for all your applications. If you change nothing else when writing a cover letter, make it this.
the body: how are you qualified?
Here’s where you get into a little more detail about your qualifications. If you’re applying to be an accountant, explain previous accounting roles you’ve held. Relevant accounting software you’re familiar with is also useful. Try to keep it somewhat conversational, though. No one wants to read a laundry list of previous jobs you’ve held. If you’re going to mention a previous job, explain how it’s set you up for the role you’re applying for. Paint a picture; being creative or entertaining will help you stand out.
This section should be no more than a paragraph or two, but even that’s pushing it. Hiring managers have a lot of cover letters and resumes to get through. Short, sweet and to the point is the way to go. The more you can say in less space, the better.
conclusion: thanks and follow up
You’re almost done! The conclusion of your cover letter should thank the hiring manager. Any additional contact info can go here as well. For instance, if you have a digital portfolio, include a link – just make sure it’s short and easy to type. Cover letters are often printed out and this makes it easy to find. If the link is string of nonsensical letters and numbers, mention that you can provide a link to your portfolio via email.
Also, let the hiring manager know you’ll be following up with a phone call or email. This demonstrates your interest in the role. Just don’t forget to make good on your promise!
Sign off with your name and you’re done! Now that wasn’t too bad, was it?
additional cover writing tips to keep in mind
- Personalization goes a long way. Get specific about the job, company and how your qualifications make you a perfect fit.
- Under no circumstances should your cover letter ever spill onto 2 pages. If your cover letter is running onto 2 pages, shorten it.
- Brevity, brevity, brevity. If you can say it something with one word versus three, do it. Hiring managers are busy people; your cover letter will receive limited viewing time. Make the most of it.
- Don’t try to sound like you’re smarter than you are. Don’t use extravagant words if you don’t know exactly what they mean. Better to be clear than to misuse a word and look foolish.
- Be creative. Hiring managers read a lot of cover letters. If you can make yours a little different, go for it! Standing out from the crowd is an important skill.
Resume and cover letter in hand, you’re ready to find your dream job!