Cover Letter Crash Course

The dreaded cover letter. We take the mystery out of how to write one that compliments your resume and gets you noticed by employers.
How to write a cover letter

A well-written cover letter can mean the difference between landing a callback or an interview and having your resume ignored. And when it comes to job hunting you want to work both smart AND hard – you need to maximize every interaction your application has with a possible employer, hiring manager, or recruiter by making sure your cover letter sells you and your experience as best as possible.

Why Is a Strong Cover Letter Important?

You only get one chance to make a first impression, and that goes for your resume and cover letter too. Recruiters and managers are inundated with applications, and often times algorithms are automatically discarding applications before a real person even gets a chance to see “you” (to learn more about algorithms read Write A Resume That Gets Your Hired). Your cover letter is that first impression, and how you write it will determine whether or not hiring managers feel there’s value in meeting you and learning more.

Prospective employers will review both your resume and cover letter prior to your interview to form an initial opinion about you. A resume is a really a laundry list of your accomplishments and your experiences, but your cover letter tells more about the person behind the profile. Your cover letter not only gives color and context to your background, but also let’s employers and recruiters know about how you write, think, and communicate, and you’re your business demeanor.

There is a school of thought that believes cover letters are outdated and insignificant. This couldn’t be further from the truth. At some point, a live person will review your resume and decide whether you’re worth interviewing. A good cover letter will also help ensure that you’re resume makes it on to someone’s desk and isn’t tossed in the digital (or real) trash.

While it’s true some recruiters don’t pay any attention to cover letters, many do. In fact, there are recruiters who won’t even consider your resume if a cover letter isn’t attached.

Writing and delivering an effective cover letter ensures you’re doing everything possible to land that first interview.

Situations When You Absolutely Need a Cover Letter

According to CareerProfiles, the first, and arguably most important situation where a cover letter is required, is when you need to share key information with an employer that could otherwise not be included in your resume. Resumes follow specific formats not designed for lengthy prose or writing, rather to serve as a quick “highlight” list of your career. In reality, hiring managers will only spend a few seconds reviewing your resume and any additional information on your resume that falls outside of the norm is likely to be missed, or ignored.

The following are few examples of situations where it’s important to include a cover letter:

  • Career Transition– When you’re making a career transition a cover letter can mean the difference between landing an interview and getting your resume thrown in the trash. Recruiters are always receiving resumes which are not relevant or qualified for the position. When making a career change, it’s essential that working parents clearly outline in their cover letters why they’re looking to make the change (professional and personal) and what transferrable skills, experience, and added value you bring.
  • Gaps In Employment– This is a big one for mothers who are re-entering the workforce after taking extended leaves of absence to have and raise kids. Do not be apologetic, embarrassed, or shy about why you left the workforce, and why you’re ready to come back. When you’ve been unemployed for an extended period of time, or out of the work force, a cover letter can explain why, and let a recruiter know that you’ve kept your skills up-to- date.
  • When it’s Requested– Sometimes employers will specifically request that a cover letter be submitted. If this is the case, you must submit a cover letter. When submitting a cover letter at the request of a hiring manager or employer, make sure it includes the specific information they requested.

It’s not uncommon for companies to request that salary requirements be included in a cover letter. While you need to comply, you also need to be very careful. When salary requirements are requested, it’s typically in an effort to eliminate those candidates with salary requirements that are higher than what’s been budgeted for the position. If the salary requirements you submit are too high, you may not receive an interview invitation. Conversely, if the salary figures you put in your resume are too low, you may end up receiving an offer less than what you’re willing to accept.

Remember, salary information should be included in your cover letter, not in your resume. This goes for references as well (not in resume, and to be submitted either in cover letter or in separate document as per their request).

When You Want to Show Sincere Interest

A second situation where cover letters can give you an advantage is when you are genuinely interested in an employer and want to showcase how much time, energy, and research you’ve dedicated to learning about them and working for their organization. This can differentiate you as someone who is truly interested, and not just someone submitting a generic letter. Before creating this type of cover letter, make sure to research the company and position you’re applying to. Be as detailed as you can when addressing what interests you about the position and the company, as well as your fit for both. Feel free to share aspirational ideas as well, like your vision for how you see yourself working with them, things you would like to do, and your ultimate goals. Research the company extensively, especially if they’ve been featured recently in the media or press – both good and bad. Product launches, massive growth in the middle of a pandemic, and/or bankruptcy and lawsuits are all things to be aware of.

Write a Cover Letter that Gets Results

The true measure of a good cover letter is how much employer interest it generates in your and your profile. How do you write a cover letter that opens doors? What are the common mistakes you want to avoid making?

The following are simple, yet powerful, tips for writing a winning cover letter:

  1. No typos or grammatical errors. It goes without saying that your cover letter must be free from grammatical errors. However, we suggest going one step further. Have someone else review and edit your cover letter. You may even consider having it reviewed by more than one person–especially if you’re not the best writer. Errors in grammar or poor spelling will greatly diminish (if not kill) your chance of an interview.
  2. No letters longer than one page. Your cover letter should be printed and no longer than one page in length. If you can’t make your point in one page, then it’s not worth making. If you’re submitting your cover letter electronically or in the body of an email, make sure it can be read with minimal scrolling.
  3. Include your qualifications. The purpose of the cover letter is to convince the hiring managers that they need to meet you and learn more about you. Make sure to include your achievements and qualifications in your cover letter, especially those that are directly related to the job description and the company itself.
  4. It’s not one size fits all. Generic cookie cutter cover letters are the worse type. Make sure you are customizing your cover letter for each job you are applying to so it is unique and personal-sounding. The best way to develop a customized cover letter is to start by learning everything you can about the company. If you can, find out who it is that will be reviewing your cover letter (usually a hiring manager or department head) and address the letter specifically to that person.
  5. Always Be Closing. In sales it’s called the ABC’s – “always be closing” – as in always keep front and center in your mind that you are trying to close a deal. That deal here is for you get an interview. Close out your cover letter by requesting an interview and even proposing possible dates and times. An effective cover letter ends by requesting an interview. Being proactive will move you closer to this goal. Remember, the entire recruitment process is essentially a sales process, except you’re selling yourself.

Need a little help getting started with your cover letter? Click here.

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