Why you need a cover letter and how to create one
Why you need a cover letter
Have you been applying to jobs with only your resume? Perhaps you have a cover letter, but you haven’t updated it since you started your job search.
How is your callback percentage?
I’m going to go out on a limb and say it isn’t very good. Why? Because a well written cover letter is and should be the first thing a hiring officer reads about you. You’ll notice I qualified the statement with well-written. If you’re going to throw together a cover letter in a few minutes and blindly staple it to every resume you send, then you may as well be putting your grocery list on it because it will not have the impact to stand out.
You’ve probably heard it said a thousand times, but it’s worth saying it again; hiring officers are very busy. So much so, that many businesses will opt to use a computer program to weed out the first and sometimes second round of applicants. That’s why there are two layers to every cover letter; the technical and the emotional.
The Technical Elements of Cover Letters
Let’s first dive into the technical elements of your cover letter. These are the things you have to have to make sure you get by the first round whether they’re using a computer or they’re working on it while watching television at night.
Your contact information is important if you want them to call you back. As this is a letter, you want this information on the top of the main section – not in the header – and it should list your name, address, telephone number, and email address.
Company contact info and salutation
This section will start with the company name and address. It’s also your first test. Hiring officers’ names are often omitted from a job posting. Finding it however shows that you’re interested. You can do your research online or simply call the front desk to ask. Having their name also saves you from addressing the letter to whom it may concern which can be cold and seemingly uncaring.
It doesn’t seem like much, but it is a letter, so it’s professional to have.
Every job posting is filled with keywords. They are the skills and experience that a company is looking for in their applicants. These are also what a computer or hiring officers are specifically looking for to thin out the crowd. The first level of attention would be using all the keywords. As an added touch, you can use words that are associated with the primary words. You would know these words to highlight not only your attention to detail, but prove you have experience in the industry and aren’t just grabbing keywords.
This is where you will let the hiring officer know where you heard of the job post. Why? Because if you found it through the hidden job market (See our post here) then you may have a friend’s name to put here. It gives context to the hiring officer and can sometimes connect you to them if the source was unique. It’s also important if you are sending an unsolicited job application to highlight it here so they don’t throw out your application thinking it was for a job posting long since closed.
This section may be a few paragraphs, but if there are then they shouldn’t be long. Your goal is to show how your skills and experience fill the company’s need. If you are using multiple paragraphs, it helps to separate them into functional groups like your hard and soft skills.
Pro Tip: If you’re short on specific experience, you still want to show where you obtained your skills.
As with any letter, you need to tie it altogether by thanking them for their time. Unless the job posting said otherwise, you have an opportunity to set the timeline you will follow up with the hiring officer. You want to make sure they have time to go through all the resumes.
Eventually a person will read your cover letter. This is where your time and effort will pay off. You need to make sure you have the following elements.
A computer may not know the difference between their, there, and they’re, but if you don’t use it properly in your cover letter, the human may just chuck it in the trash. Make sure you proofread your work or better yet, have someone else do it. Everyone has a tendency to overlook mistakes we’ve made ourselves.
Pro Tip: Read the letter out loud. Edit it where it doesn’t sound right.
You have to balance your emotions in your cover letter. You want to show that you are excited, but don’t go too far. You should always be positive and never run down a previous employer.
Originality, but not cheeky
Feel free to show some of your personality, but just like your emotions, you don’t want to go too far. This is a professional correspondence and you don’t want to alienate or insult someone, nor do you want to confuse them with your humour.
Tailored to each job
It doesn’t take much for someone to realize you’re using the same cover letter for every application. You may have the right keywords, but they don’t have context. Impress the hiring officer by doing your research and tailor the application to the specific job. Do it even if you have two applications for the same company.
Pro Tip: This is the most important fact. Research, research, research and make sure every cover letter is unique.
Your cover letter should only be a page in length. Any more and it won’t be read. It’s your chance to shine and show why you are the best qualified applicant. Don’t just regurgitate information from your resume, they’ll already have that.
Focus on the end goal; how you can fill the employer’s need. This applies for both invited and unsolicited cover letters. Remember to be specific as vague references aren’t impressive. If there is a gap in your skills or experience, your cover letter is a perfect place to show why it doesn’t matter. That’s not to say you need to explain your situation. You just want to prove why you are the best candidate by showing that you possess the skills to perform the job.