Two things you should know first about cover letters:
1. Yes, they are still relevant. You should definitely send one if the employer asks for one in the job posting. You should also consider sending one even if they don’t, if you really want the job.
2. Your cover letter should absolutely be tailored to each job you apply to. There is no all-purpose cover letter. To do one, it would look and read like a form letter. Think about it this way. You receive form letters in the mail all the time. Do you read them? If you actually do, are you impressed by them?
Now for a few tips.
· Always include the hiring manager’s name. Sometimes it’s in the job posting, but if it isn’t, call the company to find out. Just ask who you should direct your resume to and the person answering the phone should be able to tell you. If they are not sure or for reason won’t tell you then directing the letter to Dear Hiring Manager or Dear “X Company” team is acceptable. Don’t use To Whom it May Concern or Dear Sir or Madam, both scream form letter and you don’t want to turn them off before they even start reading.
· Do some research into the company. Go beyond the job posting. Check out their website and social media. See what their goals are and think of how you can help them achieve those goals. Get an idea about the company’s culture and personality. Also check for news articles on them. Maybe they have an issue you can help solve. Including specifics on how you can serve the company will definitely get their attention.
· If you’re a student or newly graduated, don’t focus too much on your education. At the end of the day the hiring manager wants to know what you can do for them and your work experience. Work experience can include volunteer work and internships so don’t leave them out just because you didn’t get paid.
· Don’t downplay your experience or apologize for your lack of experience in a particular area. If you’re new to the field, don’t give lengthy explanations as to your career change. They’ll ask about that in an interview. Instead focus on your strengths and your transferrable skills.
· Be prepared to brag. We are often taught not to toot our own horn so many people find it difficult to do so in cover letters as well as resumes. This is not the time to be humble. Hiring managers are interested in your achievements, especially as they relate to the position. Give them that information; you want a job after all.
· Be prepared to be succinct. You need to sell yourself in a few paragraphs. Your cover letter is one page only. The shorter the better. Focus on the best of the best of your abilities, skills, experience, achievements, etc. and how that will benefit them.
· Don’t be too formal. In fact, write like the company would. How do you know that? By the research you did into their website and social media. You’ll get a sense of their language, culture, and tone. If they seem like a playful company by their language, you don’t want to come off as stiff and stuffy. Remember you’re also creating an impression here.
· Don’t just reiterate what is on your resume. Explore additional achievements and/or expand on what is on your resume. Don’t just repeat it though. For example, if your resume says won manager of the year three years in a row, expound on what you did to earn it (sales, competitions, loss prevention, etc.) and how those skills will benefit them.
· Tell them how you can benefit them. I’ve mentioned this a couple times because it’s important. Your resume is all about you; your cover letter should be about you as it concerns them. They want to know what you bring to the table that will help them grow, reach goals, solve problems, and so on. Knowing what you can do for them can get you that interview which is the purpose of a cover letter.
· Use numbers and specifics. Did you increase sales? Tell them, only say, “I increased sales by 30% over three consecutive quarters”. Made an operation more efficient? Then “I improved the efficiency of the payroll process by 25% by installing a new software program” will sound great.
· Be enthusiastic but don’t overdo it. You can be excited by the opportunity, but don’t be absolutely thrilled or I can’t believe the chance I have to become a part of your company. Yes, you want to show some personality but write like you normally would.
· Avoid clichés. You may be a hard worker but what have you done to show that. Fast thinker? Again use specifics, use action words (managed, accomplished, presented), and keep away from those empty sounding phases.
The basics of the cover letter
· Start with your header which should include your name, phone number, email, your professional website URL or Linked In address if you have one, and the date you wrote the letter.
· Then add the hiring manager’s (or person the letter is going to) name, title, name of the company and address.
· Do a simple greeting. Dear (person’s name) is perfectly fine.
· Next, you have to grab the reader attention right away. Remember: you want them to keep reading. Make sure you tell them the position you’re applying for and why. Are you impressed with them as a company? Do you have many years of experience? Is this the next step in your career path?
· You then need to stir the manager’s interest. This is where you use that research. Tell them how you can help them with their goals, or how you help solved a similar problem such as theirs in the past, or what you can bring to the table.
· Create a desire for a manager to want to interview you. Connect your experience, skills, abilities, etc. to those in the job description. Tell them of your accomplishments as it relates to their business.
· Lastly, take action by asking to meet with them. That’s right. Ask for an interview. And don’t forget to thank them for their time, consideration, etc.
Cover letters can seem overwhelming, especially when you’re tailoring them for each job. However, they get easier, and better, as you do them. You’ll find yourself getting more knowledgeable about your skills and abilities and how to express them. Just keep your “voice” in your letters, be willing to tout your achievements, and you’ll be getting calls for interviews in no time.
Need help with a cover letter? Call your local career center, and we’ll be happy to help.
What do you find difficult about cover letters? Let us know in the comments!