Many jobseekers spend so much time and energy crafting their resumes that they've got nothing left to offer their poor, neglected cover letter. Many people ask themselves, in this digital age, is a cover letter even necessary anymore? Yes. An effective cover letter is still a critical component of any jobseeker's arsenal of job search materials. While I agree that these days there is an increased chance that no one will read your cover letter, I always ask my clients, "Why would you risk it?"
There are still many managers out there who require and read cover letters, and there's no way of telling whether you're reaching out to a cover letter stickler or someone who is indifferent. Considering more than 45 percent of jobseekers skip writing a cover letter altogether, learning how to write a cover letter that appeals to recruiters can set you apart from the competition. My advice: always err on the side of caution.
Editor's advice: Use a cover letter builder if you get stumped while writing yours.
A well-written, targeted cover letter can mean the difference between getting a call for an interview and going into the "thanks, but no thanks" pile. While your resume is the place you want to highlight and promote your career achievements, a cover letter is where you want to show the recruiter or hiring manager a bit of who you are, and why they need to speak with you about their current hiring needs.
To be clear, the following is NOT content would not be part of an effective cover letter: "Pls. see attached resume. Look fwd to speaking soon."
Yet, this is an approach that many jobseekers use. However, if I received this email masquerading as a cover letter, I would delete it immediately.
What is absolutely essential when creating an effective cover letter is that you demonstrate insight and understanding of the recipient's industry or field, that you grasp the current business problem with which they (or the industry) are grappling, and, perhaps most importantly, that you show your humanity. So many cover letters are either mechanical in tone, or lacking in substance, that simply saying something substantive and employing an empathetic tone is one of the components of an effective cover letter.
Best Practices for Writing an Effective Cover Letter
There are a few critical practices to keep in mind when writing an effective cover letter.
- Remember why you are writing the letter. It's important to keep in mind the purpose of the cover letter, which is to compel the reader to contact you for an initial interview. Everything in your cover letter should serve that purpose.
- Don't regurgitate your resume. You'll want to beware of the trap that many jobseekers fall with into their cover letters, which is simply recapitulating everything that's on the resume. Why would you present your reader with duplicative information?
- Know your audience. You may not know the name of the person to which you're sending your cover letter, but you need to understand his or her role and function. From that understanding comes an awareness of the problems facing the industry/field.
- Begin with the problem. What is the pain in the industry? Demonstrate that you understand it.
- Tell a story. Humans are story tellers. Use this method of communication to connect with your reader.
- It's not about you. An effective cover letter sells you, but its focus is not on you, but rather on the current business needs of your audience. Align your letter with that.
- Make it easy to read. Avoid crazy fonts, photos, and graphics. Use paragraphs to break up complex thoughts.
- What will you bring to the table? Rather than rehashing what you've done in the past, focus your cover letter on what you are able to do for the hiring manager—how you can help to alleviate the business pain.
- Aim for brevity. Keep your cover letter at 350-500 words maximum. Anything that's too wordy will be ignored.
A well-written, targeted cover letter can mean the difference between getting a call for an interview and going into the "thanks, but no thanks" pile. While your resume is the place you want to highlight and promote your career achievements, an effective cover letter is where you want to show the recruiter or hiring manager a bit of who you are, and why they need to speak with you about their current hiring needs.
5 Critical Sections of an Effective Cover Letter
Greeting. If you know to whom the cover letter is being addressed, than use that person's name. If you don't have the name of a specific individual, then do not address it to anyone. Avoid using "Dear Hiring Manager" or "Dear Sir or Madam."
Opening paragraph. Here, Identify the problem. You want to do this up front. Communicate that you understand the problem the hiring manager and his/her industry have. Far too many people begin their cover letters by talking about themselves. This is a major turn-off. Remember, it's not about you.
Second paragraph. In this section, connect your background to the job. Lay out for the reader three ways in which your background and experience mesh with what they're presently seeking. If, for example you have a background in the same or similar industry, highlight that. You will want to limit your examples to three because any more than that become unwieldy. Try to make each example unique and diverse. In other words, don't give three examples of how you are an amazing omnichannel marketer. Diversify!
Third paragraph. Here, get specific. Identify your top 3-5 achievements on your resume, summarize them, and showcase them. This is best done in a list or bullet format. Don't simply copy and paste from your resume. Really think about what is critical to the role.
Closing paragraph. End your letter with a call to action. There is no point in writing a cover letter if you're not going to ask for something! You want the reader to contact you to learn more about you, so ask for it. "Please contact me so that we may arrange a personal interview," is a good way to phrase it. Also, remember to thank the reader for reviewing your materials.
The Bottom Line
A cover letter can make or break your chances of being selected for an interview. Use the strategies laid out here to create an effective cover letter that gets you noticed. Go out there and make it happen!