The purpose of a cover letter is to pique the interest of the reader to such an extent that they want to read your resume and invite you to interview.
Hiring managers generally read all resumes they receive…because they have to. But if you can write a cover letter that really grabs the reader’s attention, your resume will find it’s way to the top of the pile for review.
And that’s a good start.
Let’s explore in a bit more detail why you should make a big effort with your cover letter…
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But What is a Cover Letter?
A cover letter is essentially a marketing document to sell yourself to a future employer. It would normally accompany – and be complimentary to – your resume or job application, and be complimentary (cover letter vs resume – what is the difference?).
Historically, a cover letter would be a physical piece of paper alongside your resume. These days, they are of course electronic documents – typically in Microsoft Word or PDF formats.
Why is a Cover Letter Important?
Your cover letter is often the first contact you will have with the hiring manager or recruiter. It will create the very first impression of you in their mind (read this article to see why first impressions count so much).
ResumeLab surveyed 200 recruiters, HR specialists and hiring managers. 83% of respondents said that a cover letter was an important factor in their hiring decisions.
Let’s take a look at a few different scenarios…
You’re in the middle of an online job application (you know the ones where you have to answer questions with the exact same details that are already on your resume!). You’re being asked if you would like to submit a cover letter in support of your application.
If you don’t submit a cover letter, it could be interpreted as you being lazy. Or that you don’t really want the job that much as you’re not willing to put the effort in.
You’re applying for an advertised role and have been asked to submit your resume by email. Even if you haven’t been asked to send a cover letter, it’s likely that you will write one of some kind anyway – in the body of your email.
After all, just sending your resume as an email attachment without any kind of introduction would not help your chances.
But when your resume gets passed along to another colleague, say for a second opinion, your original email may not get passed on too. If you have written a dedicated cover letter then it is highly likely that it will be reviewed alongside your resume by all parties involved in the recruitment process.
You’re pro-actively approaching companies that you want to work for, exploring if there are possible opportunities.
Imagine sending your resume to someone without any context. Just your resume. The person receiving your resume would think it very odd, and it’s unlikely they would pay it much attention.
Even if they did read it, and liked what they saw, it would still be unlikely they would follow up. That’s because they would feel that you have made no effort, and that’s not a positive representation.
The bottom line…?
ANY job application should include a cover letter. It should be a standard tactic you deploy in your job searching strategy.
What Should You Include in a Cover Letter?
In your cover letter you should look to cover the following themes:
- How you can add value: Make it clear how your skills and experience can help solve a problem or realize and opportunity that the company is dealing with at the moment.
- Your motivation: Make it nice and clear how enthusiastic you are about the role and the company.
- Reflect your voice and written communication skills: You’ll give the employer a sense of your personality and writing style.
Structure of a Cover Letter
Typically, you should structure the body of your cover letter around these three sections:
Section 1: The Introduction
Outline why you are getting in touch with the reader: what position you are applying for and how you became aware of the position.
For example, if you saw the role advertised on a job board, mention the board and the reference. If you were referred by someone, mention that person’s name.
If you are not responding to an ad, but are pro-actively reaching out, then make that clear too so that the reader understands the situation right from the start.
Keep this section to one paragraph.
Section 2: Show How You Can Help
This is the main part of your cover letter and where you need to shine.
Let the reader know that you have done your homework. Outline your understanding of their need – why are they hiring for this role? What problems are they looking to fix? What growth opportunities are they looking to take advantage of?
Against this backdrop of their need, now make it really clear how your skills and experiences can help meet that need. Give examples of where you have done similar before, or how you might approach the task.
Related Article: How Long Should a Cover Letter Be?
You need to be succinct here. You are trying to convey a lot of information in a short space. Don’t forget the purpose of a cover letter is to get your resume reviewed and an invite to interview – you can expend then.
This section will likely be 2-3 paragraphs.
Section 3: Conclusion and Contact
Wrap up your cover letter by summarizing your enthusiasm for the role and the value you can bring. State that you would love the opportunity to discuss your suitability for the role at interview.
This section should only be 1 paragraph long.
Cover Letter Quick Tips
Here we list a number of quick tips that will make sure your cover letter serves its purpose:
- Address your letter to a specific individual if you can, using their correct name and title.
- Make sure your cover letter is error free! No spelling mistakes, correct use of grammar and punctuation are all basic essentials.
- Stick to one page of A4. Any longer than that and it starts to become a chore to read. If it’s less than half a page then it probably doesn’t include enough information and is verging on useless.
- Use short sentences, that are easy to read. It’s a business document, not a literary piece.
- Include your contact details (email and phone number as a minimum).
- Make use of spacing to make it easy on the eye. Have spacing between each paragraph, and a consistent margin on all sides.
- Keep the appearance consistent with your resume, using the same font and text size.
- Save your document using the same style as your resume. For example, ‘John Doe – Resume’ and ‘John Doe – Cover Letter’.