Ahh the infamous cover letter (or "cover emails" in many cases)….We get a surprising number of questions from candidates and friends about them. Does anyone actually read them? Are they necessary?
Unless you’re pretty early in your career or an entry level candidate, cover letters really aren’t a must, but it's also true that they can make a difference in some cases. For every hiring manager who skips over them there's another that thinks it's lazy not to have one. There really is no right answer here - a good letter can either help or do nothing, but a poorly written one can do damage to your candidacy. So, at the very least, if you do write one, you should make sure it's really good. Even if the writing process is uncomfortable and slightly annoying, here are some tips to make it impactful:
What does your potential future employer hope to learn from your cover letter - and why do they even ask for them?
A cover letter is a short, typically single page letter that employers often ask for in the hiring process along with a resume. Some employers ask for cover letters as a knee-jerk reaction: "send us a resume and cover letter" gets copied and pasted from job descriptions year over year. However, some ask for cover letters specifically because it's another way for them to evaluate your writing and communication skills.
A cover letter should go beyond what someone can read on your resume, and offer further insight as to why you would be a strong fit for the position you’re applying to. This is an opportunity for you to introduce yourself to an employer, to sell your best qualities, and to begin your argument as to why you would be the best person for the job. Use this as a chance to demonstrate your knowledge about the company and its products or services. Make it interesting, make it something that the hiring manager will read to the end.
In a cover letter you want to answer the big picture questions that tell hiring managers why you deserve that next step, typically an interview…
So what are those big picture questions?
A cover letter allows the writer to answer the question, ‘who are you?’ It gives you the chance to introduce yourself to the person reading it and it’s an opportunity to reach out as an individual, not just an applicant.
In a resume, you’ll share your skills and experience, and from that most people will decide if you’re actually qualified for the position. In a cover letter, you’ll answer ‘Why are you the best person for this job?’ Your answer should demonstrate what you know about the position you’re applying for and why you would be a great fit at that company. The resume is just about you; the cover letter is about you, the potential company and how you fit together.
The last question a cover letter can answer is simply ‘why?’ If you think anything on your resume warrants further explanation, or may make an employer question your abilities, (employment gap, lengthy time in school, etc.) you can use your cover letter to offer more detail.
Keep your cover letter short. You'll lose your audience if it's more than a few, short paragraphs. You also want to make sure you’re maintaining a level of professionalism. This may change and vary depending on what career field you’re looking to work in. Use language that you are comfortable with and if you’re not sure, strive to mimic the level of formality the company displays on their website and careers page.
Keep your contact information consistent with what you have on your resume and make sure to include that information on both documents.
If you are 100% sure you know who will be reading the letter, address them by name. There’s nothing more boring and impersonal than receiving a letter that’s addressed to “whom it may concern.” Avoid being vague and generic, and tailor your cover letter to the specific job and the specific company you’re applying for.
And after all that, proofread. PROOFREAD. Proofread - Typos and incorrect information in a cover letter can do a lot of harm - and it's easy to avoid this kind of thing. You're looking to have your cover letter be something that differentiates you from other candidates and makes you stand out - not something that could make you look inattentive to details.
Ok, so you’ve written the cover letter, now what?
If you don’t hear from the company within a few days or about a week after submitting your cover letter and resume, follow up with them. A quick “wanted to be sure you received my application” email is an appropriate follow-up, include your name and contact information should they need to get a hold of you.
written by Irene Courey, Marketing and Communications Associate