When you have found a job opening that you think sounds like the perfect fit, what should you prepare before applying? Many people will consider their resume, which is certainly not a bad idea.
Resumes are nearly always required in job applications, because they are one of the best ways to prove to prospective employers that you have job experience, skills and other such credentials. However, one of the best ways to make your application truly personal, relevant and unique is to attach a cover letter. These can require a little extra work, as they are basically written documents that further introduce yourself and explain why you should get the job. But by putting in that extra work for each application that you submit, you can give yourself an extra push towards landing a coveted interview.
To be sure, not every job posting that you come across will ask for a cover letter. Many positions, particularly for bigger companies, do not ask for them due to the large number of applications that they are likely to receive. But assuming your resume is able to make it to a hiring manager, having a cover letter to further build your image is always a smart decision. Letting your resume speak for itself can be dangerous, as it may come across to these hiring managers as not caring enough to explain your qualifications and further introduce yourself. Cover letters show that you are invested in the position and that you are willing to spend the time to sit down and explain why you meet all of their criteria as posted in the job description.
Put simply, cover letters allow you to express your personality, delve into why you would be a perfect fit in a company, explain why you may be different than other candidates and tell the story of why you are interested in the open position. Resumes can begin to do some of these things, but cover letters are truly where the need for professional limitations can ease enough to let your personality shine. And for most employers, this leads to an increased interest in you as a person, and a much higher likelihood that you will receive an interview.
But to write an effective cover letter, you must first determine how your outline should be structured. Cover letters usually do not need to be quite as meticulously organized as resumes are, and they do not need designated section headings like resumes do. They should, however, have a solid flow to them that indicates a beginning, middle and end. Consider how long you want your cover letter to be ahead of time and make sure that you can fit what you want to in those few paragraphs. Less than a page is preferred by many employers.
Your introduction should usually include what position you are applying for, how you learned about the position, and some basic information about yourself and your goals. Make sure to set yourself apart from other applicants by describing how your experience and skills would make you the perfect candidate for their position. During this, it is often very helpful to address specific words and phrases from the job description, as well as mentioning things that you like about what the company does. Showing that you have done research on the company can indicate that you are invested in their business. Tell the prospective employer that you would really appreciate getting an interview, and that you will be following up in a week in order to get their feedback and discuss more. Doing this politely will drive home your interest, and make the hiring manager understand your commitment.
When you have determined how you would like your cover letter to look, it is finally time to write it. However, how should someone start to write a semi-formal letter to a hiring manager that they have usually never met before? This may seem like a small thing, but taking the time to find out who may be reading your cover letter makes that person feel like you are reaching out to him or her, personally, and not an unnamed corporate entity.
Saying “Dear Sir or Madam” is usually too formal, and much too impersonal. Often, developing a contact from inside the company is a useful strategy, so that he or she can put in a good word for you. An even better tactic might be trying to call the hiring manager ahead of time, to introduce yourself and to inform them of your interest in the position. If you leave a good impression, they are likely to remember that when reading your cover letter.
Whereas resumes are often direct and informative, cover letters give you the opportunity to show employers more of your personality. However, it is crucial to know your audience before writing anything too extraordinary or informal. While some companies adopt loose and modern attitudes towards communication and rapport, others are much more traditional and respectful. The last thing you want is to come across as too crass or uncaring to a hiring manager. However, you should also usually try to avoid being too formal in your writing, as that can seem insincere.
Hiring managers and recruiters have to go through a lot of resumes and cover letters, so they are some of the sharpest eyes when it comes to spotting disingenuous words or phrases that everyone uses. If you write like you would talk in a normal conversation, you can avoid seeming fake. Using phrases like “team player” or “self-starter” can make your list of skills blend in with the crowd.
Using some or all of these writing style methods can help turn your cover letter from a boring formality into a document that hiring managers will really remember you by.