One of the most common questions I get from job seekers is regarding the necessity of a cover letter. Job seekers are always hopeful that the ease of online applications has somehow eliminated the need for cover letters. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The cover letter plays a critical role in the application process, yet it’s a document that is often avoided. From writing resumes and cover letters for hundreds of clients, I’ve learned that the real reason behind cover letter angst, comes from job seekers not understanding how to write one. Even if you’re not thrilled about writing a cover letter, there are some easy ways to overcome this application challenge. With the right structure, a little creative writing and well-placed keywords, you can have a winning cover letter in no time. This blog post is the first in a series of posts on cover letter writing. In this post, I will teach you everything you need to know about how to write an effective cover letter.
Why Writing a Cover Letter is Necessary
We all know the importance of a first impression, especially when it comes to winning over a hiring manager. Think of it like this: When you go into an interview, you make sure you are properly dressed. You probably researched the company, practiced interviewing, and even pay particular attention to your firm handshake. The cover letter serves the same purpose. It immediately shows the hiring manager who you are and communicates that you are ready to get down to business. A poorly constructed cover letter or lack of cover letter will likely land you a spot in the “you’re not a fit, but thanks for your interest” pile.
Best Practices & Trends for Today’s Cover Letter
Similar to crafting the perfect resume, cover letters should follow current trends and best practices. While the cover letter information may feel similar to your resume, in terms of your accomplishments, it’s important that you avoid copy/pasting your resume information into the letter.
As a rule, cover letters should be fairly brief, but provide a quick glimpse into the following:
1) Who you are
2) Why you are sending your resume
3) Why you are qualified for the job being advertised
4) Career highlights & accomplishments that illustrate and support your qualifications
If writing isn’t your thing, you’ll be interested in this downloadable template with writing examples that are easy to repurpose for your own letter.
How to Format Your Cover Letter
The cover letter should be 1-page in length. There is no exception to this rule. Anything over 1-page is too lengthy. In terms of margins, header, color, and font, I recommend using formatting consistent with your resume. Consistency is the key here. Consistency throughout documents will send a potential employer a message that says that you are someone who pays attention to detail. The font size can vary a little, but the font type should remain the same. You want to deliver branding that translates seamlessly across your cover letter and resume and this can only be achieved by consistency. You’ll also want to keep in mind the power of the visual aspect associated with formatting. If the document is visually unappealing at first glance, due to poor layout, you could ruin the power of your first impression. The best content in the world won’t save you if the visual formatting is off!
The Best Way to Structure Your Cover Letter
Similar to your resume, having a sound structure is critical to achieving your goal of landing an interview. The structure of a cover letter is important to understand because it will be the roadmap to keep you from including either too much or too little information about yourself. Remember, the cover letter is a teaser. It’s meant to capture the reader’s attention and encourage him or her to read the resume. It’s not necessary or recommended to give away all the details. Here’s the structure I recommend:
- Company Name
- Opening paragraph stating the role you applying and maybe a short sentence that explains how you found out about the positon.
- Paragraph on why you are the perfect candidate
- 3-5 bullets on highlights of your experience and / or accomplishments.
- Closing paragraph, which asks for an interview.
- “Thank you” for the hiring manager’s time and consideration.
The Content to Include in Each Part of Your Letter
The opening paragraph: This part should immediately state why you are applying for this position and the position for which you are applying. It’s not recommended to leave the employer or recruiter guessing (because they won’t – they’ll trash it). Words of wisdom for your cover letter AND resume: “A confused mind never buys!”
The second paragraph: In this part of the cover letter, you should explain in additional detail why you are qualified for the role. An easy way to do this is by summing up the amount of relevant experience you have in the field. I recommend reviewing the job posting to make sure that you working in enough keywords while you’re going through the process. In fact, if you are creating a cover letter for one specific position, I recommend using the job posting to aid in tailoring the cover letter.
The third paragraph: This is the part of the letter in which you should ask the hiring manager for an interview. This may sound a little too straightforward, but sending a resume without requesting action will not be a strong enough message to express if you really want the job. Remember, the end goal here is to land an interview so you can continue to sell yourself in person. State that you would like the opportunity to meet them to discuss the opportunity and share details on how you can be reached.
How to Conclude Your Cover Letter
Thank you’s are important so be sure not to overlook them in your communications with hiring managers. Click here to learn more about leveraging “thank you” in the job search. Thank the hiring manager for his/her time and consideration and use “Sincerely,” or “Best Regards,” followed by your first and last name.
How to Send Your Cover Letter
You want to be sure and read the job description in full for any instructions around sending your application. Following instructions is one of those “make or break” nuances when competing against other candidates so be sure you are aware of how the hiring manager would like to receive your resume and cover letter (and follow accordingly)! If you are sending the cover letter via email, then it’s best to copy / paste the cover letter directly into the body of the email and also attach the cover letter and resume. This will give the employer the option to save the cover letter into their files (which will be much appreciated).