Job seekers often tell me that writing a cover letter is the most tedious aspect of the entire job search process. Maybe writing letters just doesn’t come easily for people, because it isn’t something we often do anymore. Even worse, employment professionals such as myself keep telling job seekers to write individualized (non generic) letters, so it takes extra time and effort to prepare one.
But I think it is still needed. First impressions do count. Employers often get a huge number of applications to the jobs they post, so they have to be picky and quick to exclude applicants that haven’t made a proper effort to apply.
As employers sort through applications, they are hoping to find those candidates that appear well qualified, likable and competent enough to be invited for an interview. Cover letters give employers a chance to gather that information and learn more about the personality, writing style, language and grammar of the applicant. A candidate who can show that they have carefully read the job posting, and express how they meet the requirements outlined, is also showing employers how well they pay attention to detail and follow instructions.
How to write an effective cover letter?
A cover letter is a brief, one-page document that accompanies a resume, introduces the candidate, and motivates the employer to read the resume and consider the candidate for a position. It should help employers see how their needs (their described “qualifications” on the posting) are matched by the candidate. In effect, it’s a way of saying to the employer: I have the skills, experience and personality that you are looking for.
You can do that by indicating that you have read the job posting and understand the expectations of the employer:
- show your interest and enthusiasm
- introduce your resume — identify what parts of your resume are most relevant to the job
- show off your excellent writing skills, grammar, and spelling
- indicate to the employer that you can and will follow instructions by applying exactly the way the employer requested in the job ad/posting
Cover letters should accompany almost any resume, whether it is in response to a posting, is solicited (i.e. the employer asked you to send them a resume), or even unsolicited (i.e. you are sending the resume to employers, in case they are hiring).
Check your cover letter against this checklist of “do’s” and “don’ts”:
- Follow the instructions in the posting, making sure to submit it in time and to the specific person outlined in the advertisement
- Keep the letter short, simple and easy to read
- Don’t use a generic cover letter; write a unique and personalized letter for each employer
- Use a formal tone, but show the level of enthusiasm that is suitable to the type of position to which you are applying
- Match the format of the letter to your resume, in terms of the font and “letterhead” (i.e. the format you use for your name and address)
- Don’t forget to include the specific job title as identified in the job posting, including any reference numbers provided by the employer
- Make sure to mention where you found the job posting
- Describe yourself to the employer; reference the specific qualifications requested in the posting; don’t assume that the employer will read your resume unless they find what they need in the cover letter
- Before sending it, always check your spelling and grammar very carefully
- Don’t depend on spell-check — it will only pick up some errors, not all (it won’t pick up a mistake if it is a real word — for example, it won’t pick up using “form” instead of “from”)
It is worth investing time and effort to write a high quality letter which conveys your enthusiasm and shows the employer the exact reasons they should consider you for the position. Capturing the interest of the employer can be a deal breaker — if your cover letter does not impress, the employer will probably not read your resume or call you for an interview, whereas a well-worded, thoughtful letter can go a long way toward helping you get that next great opportunity.