In the age of the digital recruiting, do cover letters even matter anymore? The short answer: Yes. The slightly longer answer: More than ever. Yet, far too often, job seekers treat them as afterthoughts to the resume.
The truth is, your cover letter is your first chance to make a good impression on your future boss. Resumes help employers — with a growing number of assists from software — wade through a huge pile of applications. But the cover letter is often the first thing the hiring manager sees, especially as the pile shrinks to likely candidates. So why not give your career a boost and take advantage of this chance to shine?
Here are some tips for writing the kind of cover letter that helps your resume leap to the top of the pile, and convinces them to bring you in for an interview.
1. Don't just rehash your resume — be strategic
A strong cover letter should do much more than just restate salient details from your resume. Here's a brief checklist of important functions of a cover letter:
- Draw attention to specific skills and experience that make you an ideal candidate.
- Mention relevant skills and personal qualities the resume may not illustrate.
- Explain why you would love to have the job in question — and how it advances your personal career goals.
- Establish any personal connections to the company or hiring manager.
- Justify any gaps in your resume.
2. Tailor it to a specific job
Just as we recommend for the resume, take the time to target your cover letter to the job at hand. Begin by carefully reviewing the job description, making a list of your specific skills and experiences that match this particular role.
Just as important, gather facts and figures that support your claims. For example, if you're applying for a managerial role, mention the size of teams and budgets you have managed. If it is a sales role, discuss specific sales goals you've achieved.
Besides highlighting your talents, you can further personalize your cover letter by demonstrating your familiarity with the specific industry, employer and type of position.
Remember, your future employer doesn't just want a warm body. They want employees who love their work. They know these are the people who tend to perform better, serve as stronger team members and have greater potential to grow along with the business.
3. Address the hiring manager personally
Just as you personalize your resume to the role, you should also address the cover letter to the person actually hiring for the position. If it is not spelled out in the job posting, call the employer's main phone number and ask for the name and title of the hiring manager.
This is also your chance to mention any personal connections you have to the company and colleagues you might have in common.
4. Use a standard business letter format
A cover letter is not a quick email you dash off. You should write to the same standards as any formal business letter. Use a standard font size (10 or 12 point, in a readable font style such as Times New Roman, Arial or Calibri). Keep it to one page (generally three or four short paragraphs). And include your name and contact information at the top in a business letter format.
5. Be concise
There is no need to waste time rehashing your entire resume. Instead, lead off strong by highlighting one or two convincing details from your work history, including as a few facts and figures to bolster your case.
Don't undervalue achievements outside of your main career path. For instance, the fact that you improved a procedure while volunteering as a treasurer for a local community organization shows initiative and creativity, which are valued qualities in any job candidate.
6. Use keywords from the job description
Many employers use resume-filtering software that scans for resume keywords and evaluates how closely resumes and cover letters match the preferred skills and experience.
That means your cover letter should incorporate key phrases you've identified in the job description. During the writing process, review qualifications such as the type of degree required, the number of years' experience needed, specified software skills, organization and communication abilities, and project management background.
7. Copy edit and proofread thoroughly
Once you're convinced you've made a strong argument for your candidacy, it's time to proofread your work. No hiring manager wants to see a great cover letter with typos and grammatical errors.
Once you’ve polished your cover letter, ask a friend with excellent grammar, punctuation and spelling skills to review it. Consider giving them a copy of the job posting so they can help make sure you hit all the right notes.
8. End on a strong note
In your concluding paragraph, reiterate in a sentence or two why you are the right person for this job. Most hiring managers will go to the resume after reading your cover letter, so prepare them to notice what you want them to see next.