The importance of a well-crafted cover letter cannot be overstated. A résumé contains the information potential employers need to know about where you’ve worked and what you have done, but they may not even get to your résumé if your cover letter doesn’t excite them. A cover letter is a gateway to the résumé, and it needs to stand out on its own and enhance the résumé it precedes. The challenge is to create an amazing cover letter that does both.
I know what you’re going to say:
- I was told nobody reads cover letters. You don’t know! So, what if one recruiter or hiring manager doesn’t read them. What about the next one who does? Do you want to risk it?
- No other candidates are doing cover letters. Repeat: You don’t know! What if one other candidate submits a great cover letter and you just submit a resume. Who wins?
- Some job application websites don’t take cover letters. So what? Most have a section for “other documents” and if they don’t, then don’t provide it. However, your cover letter is not just for online applications; it’s for your networking and for e-mailing to the recruiter and hiring manager after you apply.
The Cover Letter is Still King
Let’s talk about two job applicants who applied for the same position. Both were extremely qualified based on their résumés, and they had an equally fair shot at the job. One included a general cover letter that was used repeatedly to apply for every job opening. The other researched the individual company, addressed the hiring manager by name, and sent a well-crafted candidate packet matching their skills to the job description. Guess who got the job…you already know the answer.
Many job seekers today—even those with decades of work experience—don’t bother sending a cover letter with their résumé, and if they do, they are usually extremely ineffective letters. There really is no gray area; job seekers must include a well-written, job-specific, and well-formatted cover letter with every résumé.
Cover Letter 101
The purpose of a great cover letter is to answer the ‘why interview you’ for the job. You want to entice them to consider you as a serious candidate. You want the reader to continue reading your cover letter and then your résumé. Your cover letter should be a punch between the reader’s eyes with why you are the BEST candidate for their job.
There is a lot wrong with cover letters today. They can be written poorly or they can be ‘selfish.’ If written at all, candidates often provide cover letters that aren’t well written and that regurgitate the same information as in the résumé. A ‘selfish’ cover letter includes the words “I,” “me,” or “my” over and over. To check, look at your most recent cover letter and circle the number of times you use “I,” “me,” or “my” throughout. You might be shocked at the repetition.
Tell, Don’t Sell
The trick is to write a cover letter that explains what you can do for your buyer, not what you are selling. It should encourage them to learn more about you. When you start writing cover letters that clearly define why you are the best candidate for their job based on their job description, you start making yourself relevant and start getting more responses back from employers.
Structuring the Cover Letter
A cover letter should contain the following three sections (in this order):
- Purpose: The opening section of the letter is the purpose or the relevance of this communication or application. Include why are you writing the letter and applying for this job.
- Reason: The body of the letter should include the top three reasons why you are the best candidate for this specific position. Don’t cut and paste from past letters. Craft this section specifically about this job and how only you can rock this position.
- Request: The close of the letter is the actual request for an interview. Literally, share your high interest for the position, for the interview, and for the next steps. This is the call to action.
Following the purpose, reason, request model for cover letters is also the best preparation for an interview. If it’s on the phone, have a print-out of the cover letter in front of you. If your interview is in person, bring a copy with you and refer to it when needed. When done right, it is a useful tool for your overall job search process.