A colleague and I once debated the importance of a cover letter.
“All the important stuff is in my resume,” he said. “Why do I need to repeat it all in a cover letter?”
Think of it this way:
If a resume opens doors, your cover letter is what you flash when the peephole slides open. It’s a way of convincing potential employers that you belong on the other side of that door.
“A cover letter is not only important, but mandatory in most professional job openings,” says Justin Hiscock, managing editor at CoverLetterPros.com. “Cover letters allow an applicant to synthesize their work experience and relate it to the requirements of the position.”
If your application is selected for further review, whether by ATS technology or by a Hiring Manager, your cover letter is essentially your “face”- that is, the first impression of you. It directly answers questions that all hiring managers have.
The real importance of a cover letter…
…is giving a good first impression and convincing that hiring manager that you should, at the very least, be granted an interview.
So now that we’ve established it’s important, how do you write a good cover letter? That’s where things get a little murky. A good cover letter for an engineer is not necessarily a good cover letter for a salesperson, for example.
Some recommend a three paragraph format, with each paragraph having a specific purpose; others recommend no more than five sentences. The cover letter’s components, style and format are often dictated by the job you’re after.
That said, there are a few guidelines that every cover letter should follow:
This one should go without saying. It is amazing, however, how many terrible cover letters have been and continue to be sent to hiring managers.
Should a cover letter help you stand out amongst the crowd? Absolutely, but not at the expense of perfect grammar and spelling. This is not a casual message to a buddy, it’s a professional business letter.
Personality should shine through
Your resume has very few opportunities to demonstrate that you’re more than a collection of job-related accomplishments and skills. It shows you’re capable and experienced, but does little to highlight your personality, motivations and aspirations.
That’s why a cover letter is still important: it allows for an opportunity to be… well, to be you!
Be honest. Be sincere. Be friendly.
If you find yourself having trouble adequately expressing your personality on paper, you’re not alone. Ask a friend who knows you well to help tease out the details and stories from your life that clearly present who you are as a person (and less as a worker). Even better, enlist the services of a resume and cover letter writing professional who has experience brightening up even the most dreadful documents.
Explain the ‘why’
Many applicants inexperienced in the ways of the cover letter will still manage to cover the basics: who, what, where, when and how. Unbeknownst to them, it’s the why that hiring managers want to understand.
Why are you applying for this position?
Why do you want to work here? (Why not next door or down the street?)
Why should I choose you over anyone else?
Your resume tells who you are, what you do and are capable of, where you’ve gone to school and worked, and so on. But it’s the all-important cover letter that can answer those ‘why’ questions.
Published November 2016 by CoverLetterPros.com