Do I really need a cover letter?
This question crosses the minds of job seekers with every resume they are about to submit. The dreaded cover letter. I just spent hours updating my resume to match the job posting criteria and now I need to write a cover letter? Yes, cover letters are still a crucial piece of the job search. They are a difference maker in the eyes of the recruiter/ hiring manager.
Your cover letter can set you apart from the competition. It’s your first opportunity to make an impression. A cover letter helps you build your brand, in much the same way as an advertising company promotes a product’s brand. As a job seeker you should think of your cover letter as another tool in your job search arsenal. When job seekers skip the cover letter they are missing out on an opportunity to sell themselves.
Cover letters should be personalized to each position to show that you are serious about working for the company you are applying to. You should always state the reason why you are interested in working there and show that you have done your homework on the company. Don’t just throw a canned letter out with your resume and hope for the best.
Make sure to highlight your strengths in the cover letter. You may be a great candidate, but you will need to give the prospective employers a reason why they want to learn more about you. Brag a little. Give some facts about your background, relevant skills, and accomplishments. Show them what you can do for them.
The cover letter allows you to say what a resume cannot.
You can emphasize a specific position in your career, a set of skills or expertise you have gained. While you may be constrained to 1 or 2 pages on the resume, you can expand on experiences in the cover letter. This may also be a good place to explain a gap in employment, put structure behind non-traditional career choices, or otherwise make your case for the uniqueness of your candidacy.
Explain to the reader what makes you different from other candidates. Emphasize your skills, talents, and experiences to show how you would be a valuable addition to their team. The cover letter is also a great place to include your volunteer experience. This gives the reader a broader picture of you as a candidate.
Do you include any negative information in your cover letter? Stay away from reasons for termination, personality conflicts with former co-workers, pending litigation, or bad-mouthing your current or former employers. If you are saying negative things in the cover letter, interviewers may fear a repeat performance if they hire you.
The cover letter is also used as a method of determining your ability to communicate.
A poorly written or canned cover letter may tell the reader you have difficulty with written communication. The cover letter itself does not need to be long, my rule of thumb is three paragraphs. First is the introduction, where you found the posting, and why you are interested. Second paragraph describes how you qualify for the position. My preference is bullet points in this section so it is easy for the reader to determine why you are a qualified candidate. Last paragraph is the closing and next steps for making contact. If the posting is asking for compensation requirements, include a range in the last paragraph. All of this should be no longer than ¾ of a page. As with the resume, also make sure the cover letter is free of spelling and grammar errors before sending it off.
While writing cover letters is time-consuming, the effort could give you an edge and help you land more interviews.