The business landscape may not evolve as quickly as some of the faster-moving elements of our culture—like communication software or teenage music preferences. But even the stuffiest accepted business standards and mores tend to shift with each successive generation. Four-button suits drop down to three buttons, shoulder pads become sheath dresses, heels go up and then back down, and as pens become tablets, old fashioned cover letters give way to new approaches.
So let’s hop into the time machine and take a close look at where cover letters are going and where they’ve been. Instead of going all the way back to Victorian times (“to whomsoever the matter may concern”) or the 1950s (“Dear sirs”), let’s travel to the not-so distant past: about 15 years ago.
An old-fashioned cover letter greeting accomplished several goals: it offered a polite introduction, it showed that the applicant had manners, and it hinted at the nature of the text to follow. These days, greetings accomplish only one thing: getting applicants into potential trouble—and therefore removing them from the running.
Above all, keep your greeting simple and barely noticeable. Don’t misspell the recipient’s name or use the wrong gender (Mr. or Mrs. instead of Ms., for example) or level of seniority (Mrs. Instead of Dr.), and if in doubt, simply state the reader’s full name with no honorific of any kind. Even safer, just use the company name.
In 1999, candidates could still begin a cover letter with flowery apologies and long preambles. As in, “I know you’re very busy, but I’d like to take a moment of your time to introduce myself and announce my intentions to apply for the position of…” or “I’m honored to write to you to humbly request that you consider my application for...”
Don’t do this anymore. Simply state the position you’d like to step into and how you found out about it, and then quickly move on. Don’t waste your reader’s time with a long sentence about how you don’t want to waste their time. And don’t explain the nature of your intentions—modern managers know what cover letters are.
In 1999, cover letters typically summarized a candidate’s entire case for the position. They served as a kind of detailed, articulate sales pitch and they often went on for more than one page.
In 2014, it’s a better idea to keep your letter short and weave your message tightly around just one or two core statements. Mainly: you know that this employer has a problem, and you’re here to provide a solution. As it happens, you can offer two to three distinct contributions and capabilities that no other candidate can.
For additional detail, your employers can (and certainly will) examine your resume and visit the links or online information you helpfully provide.
These days, a cover letter closing conveys manners more than the introduction. Instead of just ending your final sentence and signing off, show that you know how to make a tidy, modern, and civilized exit. Include a polite call to action, and let your employers know that you’re excited to hear back about this position. And of course, offer to provide any additional information that might make the decision process easier for them.
Your cover letter brings life, dimension, and polish to the accomplishments listed in your resume, so make your case with confidence and don’t miss a beat. Visit LiveCareer for formatting and language tips that can help you send the right message and set the perfect tone for a thriving long-term relationship.