Cover letters are a time-consuming part of the job application process, especially when done well. You might be wondering: Should I include a cover letter in my job application?
The answer: Many career experts agree that sending a cover letter is almost always the best decision. In the world of automated applications, a well-written cover letter gives you the opportunity to show a personal side and demonstrate why hiring you is a smart move. It’s a way to stand out among hundreds of other candidates. Here are some guidelines to take into account:
Emphasize and highlight important keywords
Ideally, job applicants should tailor their cover letters to the individual hiring manager and position, incorporating specific keywords that align to the job posting. Don’t just repeat what’s in your resume. Instead, sell your interest in the position and tell a unique story about why you are perfect fit for the role. Cover letters should be free of typos and incorrect information — hiring managers often rely these details to evaluate your ability to follow directions or work ethic.
Share your unique story but connect it to the role
As you are tailoring your cover letter, you want to share job experiences or personal stories as they relate to the job you’re applying to. You can be creative in how you do this but always bring it back to the requirements of the role. In How to Write a Cover Letter, you’ll see examples of how to write a creative cover letter or a more conventional one — both are strong options if done well.
Have a conversation with smaller companies
Roles at smaller companies can have a big impact on the organization’s culture, so hiring managers will sometimes use cover letters to determine how well a candidate will fit in with the team. This means your cover letter can have an especially meaningful effect by allowing you to introduce yourself, reference why you’d be a good fit for the role and the mission of the company, and make a personal connection.
Address gaps and concerns
Your cover letter is also the perfect place to proactively address issues or potential concerns. It can explain irregularities in your employment, short-term positions and even incomplete degrees. Don’t leave potential employers to guess or assume the worst. Instead, take this opportunity to tell your story on your own terms and in the most positive way possible.
Caveat: when not to send a cover letter
There are instances when it is not appropriate to send a cover letter — specifically when an employer does not request one and/or the job application software does not allow for additional document attachments. If this is the case, follow the employer’s instructions. And, make sure your resume includes plenty of keywords that align to the job description. If the online application offers the cover letter as “optional,” take this option and increase your chances of moving forward in the process.
Here are additional resources to help you complete your job applications successfully:
- Start with the basics on writing your cover letter: follow instructions, tell the story of your career in your own voice and capture the attention of the hiring manager.
- After you’ve written your cover letter, you’ll want to edit and proofread to ensure you aren’t making mistakes that might cost you the job.
- Finally, double back and spend time proofreading your resume to make sure all of the information in both documents is consistent throughout and relevant to the job.
While you’re putting in the work of applying to jobs, you can also have employers contact you with fresh opportunities. Get started with an Indeed Resume.
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If you’re going to include a cover letter, make sure it includes these 3 things
Let your resume set ‘em up, and your cover letter knock ‘em down.
Recently, we discovered that the cover letter is just about dead. It’s not completely obsolete yet, but we learned from recruiters that they spend precious little time reviewing job candidates’ materials—and according to a 2015 survey, only 18% of hiring managers consider the cover letter important.
Even so, many jobs still ask you to file a letter along with your other application materials. And even if it’s optional, you might take the opportunity if they’ve asked. “The cover letter provides you the opportunity to connect the dots for the human resources staff,” says Vickie Seitner, executive business coach and founder of Career Edge One in Omaha, Nebraska.
So if you’re going to submit one, first, make sure each letter is tailored to the job you’re applying for and references the position. Second, make sure each cover letter you write includes these three elements.
Proof that you’ve done your homework
Recruiters and hiring managers want to see that you know what you’re getting yourself into. It’s important in the early sections of your cover letter that you refer to the job, its title and the company in some form.
And don’t be afraid to do a little flattering. Impress your potential future boss with an acknowledgement of a major company success. Bonus points if that success relates to the team you’d be joining.
Management expert Alison Green, in a 2007 post on her Ask A Manager blog, gives an example of how you’d sneak this info into your cover letter narrative. This is an excerpt from her sample cover letter, which would be included as part of an application for a magazine staff writer job.
I’m impressed by the way you make environmental issues accessible to non-environmentalists (particularly in the pages of Sierra Magazine, which has sucked me in more times than I can count), and I would love the opportunity to be part of your work.
The writing is informal, flattering and shows the job applicant knows the ropes.
An explanation of how your skills relate
Your cover letter is also the written explanation of your resume as it relates to the job. So it’s important you explain in the letter what exactly it is you can do for this company and this role based on your previous experience.
Here’s one revolutionary approach that accomplishes this without boring the reader to death. Darrell Gurney, career coach and author of Never Apply for a Job Again: Break the Rules, Cut the Line, Beat the Rest, asks the job candidate to write what he calls a “T-Letter.”
This is a letter with a two-sentence intro followed by two columns: One on the left headed, “Your Requirements” and one on the right headed, “My Qualifications.” Bye-bye big, boring blocks of text.
Using the job description, pull out sentences that express what they are looking for and place those in the “Your Requirements” column. Then add a sentence for each to the “My Qualifications” column that explains how your skills match those.
It’s an aggressive, bold approach. But one that could set you apart from the rest.
“You have a short-and-sweet, self-analyzed litmus test that they will read,” Gurney says. “It is pointed and has them, at minimum, think that this person has at least looked to see a congruent fit.”
Of course, you can also do this in a more traditional way—simply stating how your skills connect to the job.
Your excitement about the position
Here’s an exercise: Think about yourself in the job you’re applying for. What do you feel? You’re probably pretty pumped, huh.
Now harness some of that excitement and put it down on paper.
For example, if you were applying to a web design or UX job, you could write, “For as long as I can remember, I’ve been interested in how the digital world works and how users interact with websites. Website design is not only my career, it’s my passion, which is why I hope you’ll consider me for this great role on your team.”
This has feeling and emotion; a far cry from the dry form letter you thought you had to write.
As we said, HR staff and hiring managers have limited time and a lot of resumes to sort through. Don’t put them to sleep. Create something they’ll remember you by. It just might be the difference between your application ending up in the trash or the inbox of the boss.
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