A cover letter still plays an important role in the job application process. You might even say it’s a necessary evil. Many hiring managers use the cover letter as one of several measures to evaluate potential candidates, even at the more senior levels. A cover letter may be used to measure your written communications skills, gauge your attention to detail (is your document typo and mistake-free?) or to see if you can follow basic directions when the job posting says, “Cover letter required.”
Cover letters are also a way to reduce the candidate pool to a manageable level by seeing who makes the effort when submission instructions indicate, “Cover letter optional.”
Since a cover letter is a reflection of your personal brand and contributes to a potential employer’s impression of you, it should be written with the same attention to detail as a resume and showcase why you’re a strong candidate for the role. Having a stellar resume but a disappointing cover letter could take you out of consideration for a job.
Hiring managers will review and evaluate candidate materials according to their own preferences– some read a cover letter first and then a resume, while others do it vice versa. Either way, it’s wise to make sure both your resume and cover letter are strong.
Here are some tips to make writing an effective cover letter a little less painful:
- Keep It Short: A good cover letter is no more than a few paragraphs and should not just restate your resume.
- Include A Referral: Always begin the letter mentioning the person who referred you, if you’re reaching out at someone’s recommendation. Referrals get noticed quickly and will help you stand out.
- Incorporate Job Details: Make sure you mention the specific job title for which you're applying, as the company is likely conducting multiple searches. Also, mention where you saw the job posted.
- Use Language From The Job Description: When a company posts a job description, they're saying, "here's what we need," so use some of that same language when explaining why you're an ideal candidate for the position.
- Show Your Value: Include why you would be an asset to the company and what you have to offer. Highlight relevant experience, expertise and other information, such as having worked for the group’s largest competitor for 10 years.
- Use The Correct Company Name, Position and Contact Name: Since you are likely going to repurpose content from a previous cover letter, make sure to change the company name, job title and contact name wherever they are mentioned.
- Infuse Some Personality: Showing a little personality in your cover letter is okay, but be sure to strike the right balance between being overly formal and too informal. It's best to err on the formal side, but you don't need to sound boring or robotic. Let your passion and enthusiasm come through, as long as it doesn't sound scripted.
- Proofread: To make sure your cover letter is as mistake-free as possible, read it out loud and you’ll catch the majority of your errors. If you skip this step and send a cover letter with a typo, it may seem as if you don’t care how you present yourself, which is not the impression you want to make on a potential employer.
Alyssa Gelbard is the Founder and President of Resume Strategists, Inc., a leading career consulting and personal branding firm. She is a sought-after career strategist and personal branding expert known for her personalized, strategic approach that enables clients to confidently market themselves in an increasingly competitive job environment.