The cover letter is the first thing hiring managers see when they pick up your resume from the pile of applications. Still, many job seekers don't appreciate the importance of this crucial application document. Learn more about why cover letters are crucial to getting the job you want and cover letter tips that will make your next cover letter shine!
What's the Purpose of a Cover Letter?
The purpose of a cover letter is to give a recruiter or hiring manager a more detailed view of your accomplishments and a sense of what you'll bring to the table if you are hired. For this reason, learning how to write a cover letter is a critical skill for all job seekers.
Some recruiters may not read these cover documents, but you have no way of knowing which ones will and which ones won't. Also, many recruiters will use cover letters as a way to differentiate between candidates with similar credentials, making it another reason it's a good idea to include one with every resume you send out.
If you are still wondering about the purpose of a cover letter when you are applying for a job, consider this: Research shows that 45% of job seekers skip the cover letter altogether. This means that if you write one, you are one step ahead of almost half of your competition.
Why the Appearance of Your Cover Letter Counts
Even if the hiring manager doesn't end up reading your cover letter, a quick glance at it shows your attention to detail – or lack thereof. It also lets a recruiter see your written communication skills, which research shows is one of the most sought-after soft skills in the business world today. Things like properly formatting and addressing the document are instantly noticeable.
Sending out a resume with a sloppy cover is almost like showing up for an interview in a ripped or wrinkled shirt, and skipping the step altogether is almost like showing up without a shirt. A well-written cover letter helps to make a good first impression on the hiring manager, so learning how to write a cover letter is a critical skill to learn.
Using a cover letter template is an easy way to get the format right. You just fill in the information that's specific to your qualifications and to the job you're trying to get. It saves you time and ensures that you include all the required information.
Cover Letter Writing Tips You Need to Know
A bit of research and organizing gets you off to a good start when writing a cover letter. When you have a clear idea of the company's needs, it makes it easier to prepare a document that shows how you can meet those needs.
- Familiarize yourself with the company, and consider how your skills fit into the role you are applying for by studying the job ad. Then, begin your message with a sentence in the opening paragraph that explains how your skillset will meet the company's needs.
- Keep it short and precise. The Harvard Business Review recommends making your cover letter brief in order to make it easier for the recruiter to scan your letter and ascertain your qualifications quickly.
- Be positive and upbeat, but don't try to be funny. It's okay to show your enthusiasm for the job, but be sure to keep the language in your cover letter professional. Also, avoid using any words or phrases with negative connotations.
- Use a bold font or bullet points, when appropriate, to draw attention to key points. The Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM) recommends this as a way to capture a recruiter's attention. It also makes the document easier to review.
- Name drop fairly early in the document if someone from within the company referred you or directed you to contact the HR manager.
How Cover Letters Can Help Explain Employment Gaps
While it's usually best to avoid drawing direct attention to gaps in your employment, a cover letter gives you a place to explain anything out of the ordinary in your career path. That way, the recruiter can refer to your cover letter and see what you were doing to build skills that are of value to the company. If you were laid off, took time off to travel, or stepped away from work to raise children or care for a sick family member, your cover letter offers a great place to explain your situation.
Keep it brief and to the point. An employer will appreciate the explanation but is more concerned with your skills and experience. Use your cover letter's valuable real estate to highlight what you'll bring to the table.
Limited Work Experience? How to Fill Out Your Skill Set
Get away from the thinking that work has to be paid to give you valuable experience. Engaging in volunteer work or projects in your community shows initiative, and it has the potential to provide you with useful skills. The body of the letter is a good place to briefly mention unpaid work and share what you gained from the experience that could be of value to the company.
A cover letter is an important document to include in your job seeking toolkit as it gives you an extra chance to show why you're the best person for the job. While a recruiter may or may not read it, including one is still considered the best practice for a job applicant. Attaching a cover letter to your resume or application form isn't going to hurt your chances. However, omitting it could cause your resume to be rejected if the person doing the hiring considers the cover information important.