Many of my clients ask me if they really need a cover letter. Yes. For sure. Absolutely. But, shouldn’t the resume speak for itself? Yes and no. Learning how to write an effective cover letter could help you pull away from your competition.
WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THE COVER LETTER?
A cover letter is usually the first communication you have with a prospective employer, giving you the opportunity to introduce yourself, your experience, and show your excellent communication skills. A well-written, concise letter entices the employer to read your resume with greater interest and can improve your chances of getting an interview. Additionally:
- You can highlight accomplishments specifically relevant to the job posting that you may or may not have included in the resume,
- Explain why you are truly interested in the role, and
- Address any questions or “red flags” about you and your work history reflected in your resume, such as why you want to relocate, unusual employment gaps, and why you may no longer be with your past employer.
In short, it is an effective marketing tool to promote you and your resume. And, further down, I will explain why it is especially important if you are contemplating a career change.
DO RECRUITERS REALLY READ THE COVER LETTER?
Different surveys and studies say that cover letters can and will be ignored by up to 50% of company hiring leaders and recruiters. I admit it, when I was an HR hiring leader, I would sometimes skip over the cover letter – at first. There were hundreds of resumes to review and I needed to move fast.
But, after I identified the top resumes, I would go back and read the cover letter to learn more about the candidates that made the initial cut. I made note of the extra information, looked for answers to questions that popped up while reading their resume, and paid attention the candidate’s writing style (or lack of writing skills). If there wasn’t a cover letter, I made note of the candidate not going the extra mile. Then, I would narrow down my top candidates for the telephone screen and interview. This was especially true for higher salary roles.
From my experience, it absolutely cannot be denied that a well written, concise cover letter will give you the advantage, especially over your competition that didn’t include a cover letter.
Quick Tip: Use a Professional Header. Select “Save As” and name the file “Cover Letter” so that you can use the exact same header as your resume. It is an easy way to get a consistent, professional appearance to both documents.
MAKE YOUR COVER LETTER STAND OUT
There are many excellent approaches to creating a cover letter that makes an impact. Here are just a few examples:
- Convey enthusiasm for the company and the position. When a hiring manager feels your excitement and passion for the role, through your words, they will be more compelled to reach out to you.
First paragraph example: Habitat for Humanity and the homes it builds for low income families inspired me to pursue a career in construction. I have been waiting for a position to open in your organization, and I enthusiastically submit my resume for the role of construction supervisor.
- Define how your skills meet the company’s needs. To discover what would interest them about you, carefully read the job posting and research the company. Use the letter to point out specific skills and accomplishments that support your qualifications for the position. You can write in one to two paragraphs, and/or use bullet points to separate each item.
At Company X, I was the sole contract U.S. Recruiter for all eight divisions across the Americas, reporting to the Director of Recruiting in Tubney. This required me to develop relationships with dozens of hiring leaders in Healthcare, Engineering, Research, Life Science, Administration, Leadership and many other roles. My responsibilities included full-cycle recruitment for assigned positions within all arenas within the various departments and divisions; developing recruiting and selection strategies for sourcing that addressed the market challenges, including anticipating future demand; sourcing and screening candidates for assigned job openings; and coordinating and tracking interviews with hiring managers. I collaborated closely with hiring managers, internal leadership stakeholders, and actively worked to streamline on-boarding processes – in collaboration with 8 divisional HR Generalists/Managers.
- Provide examples of how you solve problems. These examples can be used as compelling reasons for them to contact you. Employers want to hire individuals that will produce results. Throw in a few bullet points about a problem you solved at a past employer, the actions you took and what the successful results were.
At Company X, significantly reduced store’s shrink by more than 25%, limiting operational losses and adding more than $100k per year to operating profit margin.
- Explain why you are no longer with your most recent employer. (Be careful with this one. If you got fired, leave that out. Use the interview to give harder explanations.)
I truly enjoyed my role at Company X. Unfortunately, the company was purchased by Company Y and the merger created several leadership redundancies. Now, I am ready to hit the ground running as your VP of Sales and Marketing.
- Ask for the interview. Always use the closing as an opportunity to repeat your interest in the company and role and state you are looking forward to discussing how you can be of service to the organization.
Based on the above, and the contributions highlighted in my resume, I am presenting myself for the Talent Acquisition Specialist role. I look forward to speaking to you about how I can be of service to your team and the organization.
LIMIT YOUR LETTER TO ONE PAGE
A direct and to the point document encourages the recruiter to move onto your resume. And, a concise, short cover letter makes the statement that you can get straight to the point. The rule of thumb is 4 to 5 paragraphs, which might include a few accomplishment bullet points to break up the text.
The possible exception to this rule is an application for public sector or educational institutes, such as a university. More often than not, these organizations will add supplemental questions to the application process and require a longer cover letter.
And, last but not least, proof read your cover letter (and your resume). If you know you have grammar and spelling issues, have someone with solid writing skills review all of your documents. If you don’t have an editor hanging around, considering using Grammarly – a free, online writing assistant.
– Heather McBride, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
CHECK IT OUT! Want to learn how to format an effective resume?