When launching a job search, it has become standard practice for employers to ask potential candidates to submit a current resumé or CV. These documents allow recruiters to compare each applicant’s qualifications and experience to narrow the pool down to the best candidate for the position. If hiring staff use resumés to identify the top performers, is a cover letter still necessary?
Absolutely! Many employers require that candidates submit a cover letter. For others, cover letters are optional. However, wise applicants will choose to include a cover letter with their resumé. After all, a cover letter is a unique opportunity for you to convince the hiring manager that you are an ideal fit for the position.
The Purpose of a Cover Letter
A properly crafted cover letter should be less than one page long. It should be roughly three short paragraphs addressing the recruiter or hiring manager. The letter’s contents should focus on how your qualifications, skills, interests, character, and motivations make you a promising candidate. While your resumé lists your past employment, education, and abilities, this letter is your chance to connect the dots between yourself and the key characteristics they are looking for in an ideal candidate. What you say in your letter can influence the conclusions employment recruiters draw about you from your resumé.
What Should be in a Cover Letter?
A well-written cover letter should tell the reader why you are qualified for the job. Be sure to read through the posted job description carefully and draw direct correlations between your skills and the qualifications listed. Clearly describe what you have to offer the employer. How can you help the company achieve its goals? Avoid talking about the position as a starting point for your career or stepping stone to embarking on a different path. Employers are searching for employees dedicated to their work, not focused on what the company can do for them.
If the employer provides specific instructions for the cover letter, follow them precisely. Deviating from their directions may lead them to believe that you have difficulties following instructions or prefer to follow your own path rather than being a team player.
At the end of your letter, you should include a call to action for the recruiter reading your letter. This statement can be as straightforward as stating your interest in meeting with them and discussing your future with the company.
What Should Not be in a Cover Letter?
Just as quickly as a cover letter can earn you an interview, it can get your resumé tossed if you neglect to follow proper cover letter etiquette.
Yes, your cover letter is an opportunity to shine a spotlight on your skills and abilities. It can be tempting to embellish, exaggerate, or even lie your way into the position of your dreams. However, falsifying information on your resumé, application, or cover letter is grounds for the company to withdraw their offer or terminate your employment. Your future employer can check your facts. It is better to earn the position based on your own merits than lose it because you stretched the truth. Be honest in what you write.
According to a survey conducted by CareerBuilder, 77% of hiring managers reported that grammar mistakes or typos were a deal-breaker for them. Ensuring your cover letter is free of minor errors can keep you in the applicant pool. Many word processing and online tools catch typos, spelling, and grammatical errors. Use these tools. Then, ask a trusted friend, coworker, or mentor to read your cover letter looking for issues. A second set of eyes can be invaluable to the proofreading process.
After reading your resumé, nobody wants to read through a letter repeating the same information. Resumés give recruiters the facts about your education, employment, skills, and achievements. The cover letter should connect those facts to the position you are applying for. Thus, the two serve different purposes. Your cover letter should offer a unique perspective.
Recruiters often read dozens of letters from applicants. If you want to stand out in their mind as the best candidate, your letter should also stand out. Avoid generic phrases likely to appear in multiple letters. Likewise, be sure to personalize your letter. Take time to research the company and the position so you can speak specifically about how you will fit in that position in that organization. If done correctly, you should need to change your letter when you apply for a different position.
Talk About Compensation
Your cover letter is an introduction and should focus on how you can help the company. Addressing pay and focusing on what you want from the company will sound forward and can lead to misconceptions about your primary motivation for applying for the job. Instead, express why you are interested in joining their team and what you have to offer. Wait until the employer brings up compensation in an interview later.
Providing a lengthy life story at the beginning of the recruitment process is unhelpful and unwise. Reviewing resumés and cover letters is just the beginning. Professional job recruiters are more interested in determining which candidates fit the criteria for the job than learning about their past experiences. Save interesting stories that will differentiate you from the rest of the candidates for later and stick to relevant facts for now.
Too Many Words
If your cover letter is too lengthy, recruiters are likely to skim or scan over it for important points. Keep in mind that there will be many other cover letters and resumés. Limit your cover letter to the most valuable information and keep your language simple. Don’t use more words than necessary to communicate your point.
Writing your first cover letter can be a daunting task. For the best chance at employment, ensure your letter is accurate, to the point, and error-free. The more you work at it, the better you will become at crafting a cover letter that clearly conveys why you are the right person for the job. It may even help you land your dream job.