I once heard a career expert say that cover letters are a waste of time. I beg to differ. Although cover letters don’t hold nearly as much weight as the Almighty Résumé, they are important to the job application process. It’s a chance for you to encapsulate your skill set, explain why you are the right candidate for the job and show off your personality. Do not design a form letter. Instead, write a letter that offers a unique perspective with each company in mind.
When I was younger (okay, I’m not that old), I didn’t know what to put into a cover letter. It would read like one long run-on sentence. That was probably because I wouldn’t let anyone take a peek and actually critique it. I was too scared they would say it was horrendous. Or worse: “You’re a writer, but you can’t write.” The point is that there are critical points of information that will allow your next cover letter to sing. Here are three questions to answer to help you hit the right note:
Who are you? Explain who you are, why you are writing and what position you are applying for. Also include where you found the job posting. And don’t get this easy info wrong. In one interview, I actually called the company that I was interviewing with by its competition’s name. The interviewer said, “Excuse me?” Needless to say, that interview was over before it began.
What do you have to offer? What is it about your particular set of skills that makes you the right person for this job? Mention the skills, relate them to the position and give examples of how you can help the company grow, save money or streamline its processes. If you can’t do this in the cover letter, then it will never come through on the résumé. Make sure your cover letter complements, not duplicates, what you’ve detailed in your résumé.
How will you follow up? Be very clear and concise here. Thank the hiring manager for his or her time and let him or her know that you will follow up via email the following week. Reiterate how you can be reached via email or phone in case there are further questions. Mention the enclosures such as your résumé, work samples and recommendations, and that’s it. If it takes more than five minutes to read your cover letter, it’s too long.
Before you press send, do a spell check, read the letter aloud and have a colleague with a good eye for language read it. The cover letter is often the first impression between you and a prospective employer. Make sure it’s a lasting one.