They’re an essential part of the job application process but one that’s often overlooked by those applying for work. The cover letter might not get as much air time as the resume, but it’s equally as important in helping you stand out from the crowd and get the interest of your potential new employer.
It’s believed that two out of three resumes are now attached to a cover letter, so while this used to be a rare thing it’s now more important than ever to have one.
According to a survey conducted by Society for Human Resource Management, these simple documents are usually read in a minute or less, and they’re great for giving the employer a clear and succinct picture of who you are and what you can offer them as a recruit.
However, these delicate documents aren’t as straightforward as that and they take quite a bit of fine tuning to get them perfect.
With the right cover letter attached to your resume, though, you’ll not only stand out from the rest of the candidates but will instantly present yourself as an intelligent, motivated, and determined individual.
The Purpose Of A Cover Letter
Drafting a good cover letter can be quite a chore, as some people tend to get carried away and miss the point entirely. Try to imagine your cover letter as the first point of contact and the first impression you’ll get with an employer before they even get to read your resume.
There are three main things a cover letter should do, and each is as important as the last. In a succinct and clear way, your cover letter should:
- Introduce you as an applicant and give some background information on who you are;
- Express your interest in the position, or if no position is advertised then express an interest in working for the company or organization;
- Draw attention to specific parts of your resume that are relevant to the position advertised, or how these could help you succeed in the role or organization.
Without going into too much detail, unless the application description calls for it, you should aim to get all of this information on one single page.
A study has found that almost 70% of employers prefer one-half a page or less in length, so keep this in mind when you’re writing. Your resume will then follow on with more depth about your employment history and relevant skills, so there’s no need to double up on this during your cover letter.
Different Types Of Cover Letters
Within the realm of cover letters, there are a few different categories, and each of these usually depend on the position, company, and your purpose for sending through your resume. Carefully assess your cover letter to ensure it is the right type and that you’re sending through something which won’t be ignored.
Application Cover Letter
This is the most common type of cover letter and is one drafted to apply for a specific advertised position within a company. The cover letter should address specific points in the job advertisement and match them with your relevant skills and background.
Referral Cover Letter
These cover letters are used when someone has referred you for a job, and along with your background and professional information, it should make reference to this referral and the reason for it.
Expression Of Interest Cover Letter
These are used when no formal position has been advertised, but you are writing to express an interest in working for the company. This should have a general overview of your skills and career goals, being careful to ensure they match exactly with the work of the organization.
Networking Cover Letter
When you’re not looking for a specific role but are interested in reaching out to career professionals who may be able to guide and assist you with your employment, this is the way to do it. You may find that you get a mentor from it, or better still may be offered an internship.
Each of these cover letter styles has a main goal, so you need to be aware of what yours is before drafting it. An employer will not be impressed by a cover letter that doesn’t get to the point or illustrate your clear intentions, so you have to make it work.
Remember that these letters are usually read in under a minute, so you will need to grab the reader’s attention instantly.
What To Include In A Cover Letter
To guarantee that your cover letter is given the attention it deserves, you have to know the right stuff to put in it. A good cover letter should complement your resume but not double up the information within. Keep this in mind as you write, and try to think of it as an introduction to yourself and your skills in reference to the position advertised.
- Format your cover letter correctly so that your address and contact details are displayed at the top of the page. If you are sending an email, though, these can be included under your name once you close the cover letter.
- Begin with a salutation, and where possible use the exact name of the hiring manager or person responsible for posting the job ad. Keep it simple and use “Dear” as the salutation, unless you’re unaware of their name and in which case “To Whom It May Concern” is a suitable alternative.
- The first paragraph should focus on the job you’re applying for, where you saw it advertised, who referred you to it, or the name of another contact if you were given one. Avoid generic statements such as “I am writing to apply for..” as most cover letters will use these.
- The middle paragraphs are where you’ll link your personal skills and experience to the job advertisement. Focus on one thing at a time, addressing the advertisement and what is listed as critical skills and experience. Give specific examples of how your experience fits with the job, but don’t go into too many details as your resume will be able to provide this.
- To finish the letter, say a thank you to the hiring manager or HR team for considering you for the position. You should also give information about following up on the application, and state that they can contact you for any further details. Sign off with a professional closing such as “Regards” and ensure you do a signature as well. If you’re emailing your letter, you can use an e-signature for a professional finish.
Things To Avoid In Your Cover Letter
If you ask any hiring manager or HR team, and they’ll likely agree on a few things that they read in cover letters which make them cringe. Keep these in mind when writing your cover letter, and ensure that you can’t spot any of these mistakes.
Too Much Focus On Yourself
While it’s great to introduce yourself in a cover letter, try not to make the main focus of it all about you. A better way to phrase things is to focus on what they’re looking for in a candidate and show how it applies specifically to your skillset and experience.
Going Too In Depth
If a hiring manager spots a novel length cover letter or finds themselves getting bored in the first few sentences, there’s a good chance you’ve gone into too much detail. Your resume should have the bulk of the information required, so you just want to give a general overview in your cover letter.
While you might think it will get you a job if you pull at the heart strings of the HR team, nobody wants to read anything that will make them uncomfortable.
Leave out details such as your recent divorce and need for supplemental income, or the fact that you were let go from your last job. During the interview, a hiring manager might ask questions relating to your previous positions which is where you could shed some more light in a professional way.
Using General Statements
Have a quick scan of your cover letter and if you see any phrases like “team player” and “I believe I am the perfect candidate”. They’ve read them before and they’re boring, with the aim here to stand out from the crowd. Be specific about your skills and try to avoid the clichés that they’ve likely seen a million times before.
Tips For A Good Cover Letter
No matter which type of cover letter you’re creating, whether it’s from a referral or applying to specific jobs, these tips will help you give those finishing touches. Before you send it out, ensure you’ve checked through these as you have a final look at the final product.
Proofread, Proofread, Proofread
Before sending out your cover letter, close the file completely and leave it for the day. Come back to it in the morning and give it a read with fresh eyes, and you’ll be surprised just how much needs to be changed. Always use the spell-check function on your computer as well, and give it to someone else to check if you’re in doubt.
Make It Personalized
There’s nothing worse for a hiring manager than receiving the same basic layout for a cover letter with a few things changed. Always create an entirely new cover letter for each role you apply for so that it’s obvious you’ve taken the time to personalize for that organization.
Attach As Required
Some job advertisements will specify that a cover letter needs to be attached as Word document or PDF to the email, and others will ask you to write the cover letter as part of your application email. Whatever the case, ensure you read the advertisement carefully as this shows you can follow instructions and show attention to detail.
Keep It Short
Once you’ve finished writing, go through and take out unnecessary sentences or areas where you might have rambled. A good cover letter should be half a page or less so that it can be read quickly and easily by the hiring manager. Anything longer and they’ll likely avoid reading it at all, and all your efforts will have gone to waste.
The Importance Of A Cover Letter
With the job market being more competitive than ever, and our attention spans seemingly getting shorter and shorter, it’s essential to have a powerful cover letter that will help you stand out in an instant. Your cover letter is the first impression you’ll give to an employer, and often considered far more important than an interview or resume combined.
Before crafting your cover letter, though, be sure that it’s appropriate for the position you’re applying for. Job seekers might already know that some ads state specifically to only attach a resume, and in this case, it’s best to leave your cover letter out, but in all other situations the more you can provide the better.
As you read over your cover letter and give it the finishing touches, try to put yourself in the shoes of the person doing the hiring. Imagine you are reading hundreds of these letters each day, and likely find yourself bored with the caliber overall. Your aim is to stand out, and you often have just a few sentences or words to do it.
A skillfully crafted cover letter should be a segue to your resume and provide potential employers with a broad overview of your skills and motivation. Whether you’re applying for a specific job or showing your interest in working for a company, these handy letters can offer a succinct way to show your abilities and what makes you such a perfect fit to work for them.