Cover letters are a concise way to communicate your value to a company. They demonstrate your attention to detail and anticipation of the company’s needs. The cover letter can be the difference between making or missing the cut for an interview.
Not every computerized (ATS [[link to resume page – ATS section]]) or human screener pays attention to cover letters, but an applicant had better assume that a cover letter will be screened. Job seekers should assume that their cover letters may be scanned with ATS. Look at the cover letter as a way to put in additional skills and credentials to add additional searchable keywords that a company may have programmed to identify candidates for a specific job posting.
Hiring managers have been known to pass on candidates with great resumes because of their inadequate cover letters. Cover letters are your introduction to an organization. It's a quick summation of what you bring to the table, and an invitation to read more details regarding your background and experience. And like your resume, it needs to be focused on accomplishments and results. The cover letter is one of those items that you never know about but in the end you hope that it gets to someone, not a machine, and they read it.
The goal is to construct a letter that highlights your qualifications, skill and experience that match you with the particular job position. The letter should have three primary elements to: 1) identify the position you are applying for and where you found the job listing; 2) explain how your experience and skill sets match this position; 3) write a closing statement that states your desire to be employed by this specific company.
The cover letter needs to emphasize what you can do for an employer. An effective way to do so is by reinforcing the main accomplishments as bullets in the letter. Using four to six bullets with only a few paragraphs surrounding them makes it easy for a reader to scan the page for key terms and language. Focus on the tangible results and be succinct about it. Be smart, focus on the decision maker’s reading your resume. Every bullet point matters, so use them wisely.
Elements of Effective Cover Letters
- Cover letters should be formatted as a standard business letter.
- When mailing your cover letter, use good quality paper white, light tan or ivory matching your resume/CV.
- Address the letter to a specific person, clearly indicate the job you are seeking and focus on the specific needs of the company. How do you determine the individual to whom you should send your cover letter if the company doesn't list the name of the hiring manager? Try the following:
- Search LinkedIn and Facebook to determine who might be responsible for hiring for this position.
- Google the company's name, the position title and "jobs," "employment," "human resources" or "careers" to see if they have listed a hiring contact for this type of opening in the past.
- Call the organization and ask the receptionist.
- Contact a current or former employee who can tell you the name of the individual in charge of hiring at your level.
- Do not repeat the contents of your resume.
- Write in a conversational tone that has confidence and conveys knowledge of the organization.
- Choose a professional business letter format.
- The letter should include a minimum of three paragraphs the introduction, body and conclusion:
- In the introduction, explain which position you are applying for and how you learned about it. Mention if you were referred by someone or know someone in the organization. This is also where you should say something specific about the company, illustrating that you know who they are and what they do.
- The body is where you explain how your skill sets and other attributes match the position. Keep this section brief. Don’t repeat your resume. Forge a relationship between their company and your qualifications for the job. Give examples of what you can do to benefit the company. This is where to insert your four to six bullet points if you use them.
- In the conclusion, restate your interest in the position. Let the reader know that you look forward to discussing the job in more detail in an interview. And, thank them for the time they took to read your letter and review your resume.
- Make sure to proofread the letter using a spelling and grammar checking program. Most importantly, have at least one person read the letter for errors and impressions. The feedback you get from another person can be extremely helpful.