Many job seekers question whether or not they should send a cover letter with their resume. It’s a question that’s up for debate between job search professionals, and you’ll receive conflicting advice everywhere.
People skip the cover letter because they think that companies don’t read them and that they are a waste of time to write. While it is true that some hiring managers and recruiters won’t take the time to read a cover letter, plenty of companies do consider one necessary for a candidate to receive serious consideration. Not sending a cover letter for a position could be a risky move, so if you are extremely interested in the position for which you’re applying, your best bet is to include one.
Think of your cover letter (or introductory letter) as a high-level overview of your resume and an additional tool to elaborate any specific information. It provides you with the opportunity to highlight your strengths and answer any possible objections up front. Focus the content on the specific skills that the job description mentions so that the hiring manager knows right away that you fit her criteria. Once you’ve covered that and have gained the reader’s attention, you can use it fill in any details that might not fit on or be appropriate for your resume.
For example, if you are applying for a job that requires French language skills, it might not be fitting to mention in your resume that you lived in France for a few years as a teenager with your family, but your cover letter is the perfect place to tell that story.
If you foresee any obstacles, such as in the case of applying for a job out of state, mention them in your letter. Let’s say you are applying for a job in New York City and live in Utah, but plan to move to New York soon; let the company rep know so she doesn’t feel like you’re looking for a relocation package. If you are planning on being in the region where you are applying for jobs, make sure you include this early on in your cover letter.
Successful Cover Letters
There’s no single formula for success when it comes to writing a stellar cover letter, but you can be sure that the more unique and creative your cover letter, the more attention it will get. A quick cut and paste job changing the title of the position won’t cut it. The meat of the cover letter should be customized for the specific position using the job description and your knowledge of the company as a guide about what to cover in the introduction.
Relate your experience to the job description. The best cover letters should leave the reader with the desire to call you to come in for an interview before even opening your resume.
Keep the letter relatively short. It’s an introduction to you and your resume, so three to five paragraphs should suffice. Resist the temptation of writing a full page (or more) to get in all of the great things about you; it’s better to keep some of that for the interview.
Address your letter to the hiring manager, and if at all possible, get his or her name. A personalized letter is much better than one addressed “To Whom It May Concern.”
What to Include
- Start your letter by identifying the position you are interested in and where you found it (this is unnecessary if you are applying through a job site directly). If the company is hiring for more than one position that you’re interested in and qualified for, specify which ones. Only choose the positions for which you are a close enough fit. Otherwise, your search comes across as unfocused.
- Provide three outstanding reasons why you are ideal for the job. It’s not enough to say, “I’m the perfect fit for this role.” Instead, you should back it up with examples. Refer back to the job description to align what you focus on with the responsibilities and challenges of the position.
- Bullet points or a table to match your background to the requirements works well to highlight your three main points. They’re visually easy to skim, and they show the reader where her eyes should focus. Stick to just three (maybe four) points, rather than a long list. Your resume should answer the rest.
- Don’t forget your contact information! Provide both your e-mail address and your phone number, as well as any links to your portfolio or samples of your work.
And finally, don’t be too stuffy. Yes, your letter should be professional, but it should also show your personality. Be relaxed in your letter, and don’t be afraid to toot your own horn. Sometimes the job description can give you an idea of the company’s formality. If the description is a bit off the wall and personable, respond in a similar tone. On the other hand, if the job description is very stilted and formal, a more traditional letter may appeal more to the reader.
Lindsay Olson is a founding partner and public relations recruiter with Paradigm Staffing and Hoojobs, a niche job board for public relations, communications and social media jobs. She blogs at LindsayOlson.com, where she discusses recruiting and job search issues.