It’s so easy to submit your job application online these days but that alone will rarely get you any significant traction no matter how stellar your credentials. The reality is that there are so many job applicants for each position you must distinguish yourself above and beyond the competition. A cover letter can help you do that very thing.
Let me first say that I’m a firm believer in customizing your resume for each unique opportunity. We know for a fact that the HR scanning software systems look for direct word matches on your resume and this holds true for cover letters as well.
Composing a unique cover letter for each opportunity you seek allows you to tell your story and showcase your value-add. Plus, it’s a mini writing sample and if that competency is part of the job, this will be the first opportunity for you to showcase this strength. Likewise, it can also kill your chances if your letter is not up to par.
Here are some basics to consider when writing your letter:
Use the Job Description as a Guide – if you are lucky enough to have a human being read your materials, they will look at your cover letter first and decide if they want to read your resume. Human Resource professionals are inundated with applications so make their job easy and use the exact verbiage in your letter that appears in the job description. Of course, only do this if you can truthfully deliver the skills and experiences they need.
Whet Their Appetite – the point of the letter is to entice the employer to invite you to interview. Tell your story and why you want the job. Be sure to show your enthusiasm and also indicate where you heard about the opportunity. This is a perfect chance to illustrate a personal network connection if you have one but you can also mention a job board or website if that’s how you heard about the opening. Companies like to know how their position advertising dollars pay off so don’t forget this important step.
Tell Them Why You Are Valuable – your letter should show your genuine enthusiasm for the position but the focus should not only be about why you want the job. You must showcase why you are able to do the job and give a brief example or two, of your experiences that illustrate the skill set they seek. This professional story telling is extremely important because your one page narrative will fast track you to an interview (or not!) based on how well you convey your value to the organization.
Less is More – with the myriad of applicants and the uneven supply and demand for jobs, you MUST keep your message brief, clear, and well composed. Going over a page could be a deal breaker so keep it short, on point, and always professional. Mind your manners and thank them for considering your materials and include the masthead from your resume with all your pertinent contact information.
Read it Out Loud – proofing is essential but I also suggest that you (and others) read it out loud to check for flow, clarity, and rhythm. You must give the reader an opportunity to breathe since run-on sentences are inappropriate grammatically but also frustrating for the reader.
To Whom It May Concern – in this Internet-at-your-fingertips era, it can be easy to find out who is leading the search committee. If this information is not available online then call the main reception phone of the organization to sleuth out this crucial detail. Receptionists are the gatekeepers of information. Obtaining the name of the person leading the search so you can address the letter to them personally may just put you at the top of the pile for consideration.
A cover letter can be especially important if you are going through a career change, getting back into the workforce after a prolonged absence, or have some other unique issue to explain that is not evident on your resume. Use the letter to convey the message on your terms so your employment gap does not automatically disqualify you from the job, for example.
Unless the posting explicitly says “no cover letter” and some do, always send a letter. It can distinguish you from the application pool and help you showcase what you do well in regards to what the employer needs.