But according to the results of a recent OfficeTeam study, which surveyed senior managers at companies with 20 or more employees, cover letters are still an important part of the job seeker's toolbox.
Ninety-one percent of the more than 1,000 executives queried say cover letters are either somewhat or very valuable when evaluating a job candidate.
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"Although the job application process has increasingly moved online, the importance of a cover letter shouldn't be underestimated," says Robert Hosking, executive director of OfficeTeam. "It often is the first opportunity to make a positive impression on hiring managers."
Cover letters are also a good opportunity to build rapport with a prospective employer and show how the skills on your resume fit with the job for which you're applying.
Here are some tips for getting it right:
1. Make it look good. Before someone starts reading your cover letter, they're going to look it over. So if your cover letter looks like a chore to read, you've already fallen behind.
Avoid long sentences and big blocks of unbroken text. Keep your sentences short, direct, and active. Separate paragraphs (there should only be two to four) with a single space. Think about using bullet points when listing skills and accomplishments to make the text look airy and less daunting.
2. Make it original. Every job opportunity deserves its own cover letter—that means non-generic in form. Take a good look at the job posting and tailor your cover letter to it by using similar terminology and tone, but be yourself at the same time.
You can follow a standard three-paragraph format for most letters:
3. Make it relevant. Your cover letter shouldn't just be a list of your skills and experience (that's the purpose of your resume). Instead, it should make the case for why your skills and experience are right for a particular position. Match your qualifications with some of the job requirements using real-life examples. Remember to keep it brief. With any luck—and a good cover letter—you'll be able to elaborate during your interview.
4. Use names. First, do your best to find out who will read your letter and address it to that person—there's nobody named "To Whom it May Concern." Also, if you have an inside connection at the company (who doesn't mind vouching for you) work it into the first paragraph.
5. Make it perfect. Typos, bad grammar, and poor spelling kill cover letters. So don't just dash off a cover letter and send it. After your first draft, set the letter aside for a few minutes. Then reread it. Look for ways to strengthen the points you make while tightening your language and deleting unnecessary words. Then read it again. Use spell check (but remember to double check it). And, finally, let someone else give it a read.
Luke Roney is content manager for CareerBliss, an online career community dedicated to helping people find happiness in the workplace. Check out CareerBliss for millions of job listings, company reviews, salary information and a free career happiness assessment.