Writing a cover letter is one of the things that is misunderstood by the majority of job seekers today. It may well be because most of them believe that cover letters don't really matter that much nowadays. Instead, they focus on their resumes to land more interviews. What people forget is that submitting a good cover letter along with a resume can never hurt; the worst case scenario assumes it won't be read at all. However, if HRs take time to read the document, a good cover letter can give a huge advantage to those trying to get a job. Most people are happy to find a cover letter sample somewhere online and copy-paste information from their resumes. Others take it a step further, searching through cover letter templates, analyzing which cover letter format would be the best. Although all of the samples and templates are instrumental in writing a cover letter, one should be careful not to simply use a generic cover letter template - it will make one look as an average candidate. The purpose of a good cover letter is the opposite - to prove that you are so much more than an average candidate.
What is a Cover Letter?
Before we get to some actionable cover letter writing advice, we should understand the basics by answering one simple question - what is a cover letter? Although a cover letter definition is nothing too difficult to grasp, some people don't really understand what this document implies. According to the definition, a cover letter is a document that is sent along with a resume or CV. But the truth of the matter is that it is so much more than some kind of a letter accompanying your main marketing document. Those applying for jobs usually send a cover letter as a part of their application for employment in order to introduce themselves to prospective employers. The thing is that employers are looking for job seekers to share their stories and explain why they must be hired while most job seekers simply copy-paste information from their resumes. So often a cover letter simply becomes a copy of resume making it nothing special (useless) at all. The problem is that this kind of cover letter is not what employers expect. Companies are looking for people who would provide individualized cover letters to demonstrate their genuine interest in the position. Be it a cover letter for internship or cover letter for a job, it must be customized to the company's needs and wants. That's where hiring authorities draw a line between lousy cover letters and effective ones.
Cover Letter Tips
Obviously, there are some specific things that are common to different kinds of cover letters (i.e. customer service cover letter, engineering cover letter, teacher cover letter, etc). This is because each of the aforementioned position requires specific skills and qualifications. Because effective job search process is about meeting the needs and wants of prospective employers, cover letters should conform to this principle as well. For example, if you are writing a customer service cover letter (meaning you are applying for a customer service job), you should focus on skills and experiences that are relevant to this position only. But there are also some things which are common to a good cover letter regardless of industry it is to be written for. You can find the list of cover letter tips below.
How to address a cover letter?
When it comes to addressing a cover letter, it is always better to use a formal full name salutation. Use the HR's first and last name (Mr. John Doe or Ms. Samantha Smith). Drop the title if you are not sure whether you should use "Mr." or "Ms." based on the name you have. In order to find out the name of the hiring manager, you need to spend some time researching the company. Employers want to know you did your homework. But sometimes, even after a thorough research you still might not know the name. In that case, use the name of the head of the department for the job you are applying for. If can't find that name, go with "Dear Hiring Manager" then. Your goal though is to be as specific as possible. So when you are trying to figure out how to address a cover letter, go with the option that shows you did your homework.
How to start a cover letter?
There are several things that are to be said on the cover letter opening. First, let the reader know which position you are after. This helps to understand your intentions. Second, mention the contact who referred you to the job (it is considered that this way you will have much more chances on being hired so hopefully you can find someone). Third, express some excitement and passion to work for the specific company (explain why this particular job and this particular company). Lastly, use industry related keywords when writing your first paragraph (don't overdo it though - it should read naturally). If you still don't know how to start, you can check some cover letter examples here.
What to include in a cover letter?
Every effective accompanying letter should: a) explain why you want the job; b) demonstrate that you can do the job well (based on previous experiences and accomplishments); c) show your knowledge of the industry as well as the company's needs and wants. Now it may take some time to address all of these things, but when you do it you can significantly increase your chances on getting that interview invitation. You won't be able to copy-paste these components from cover letter templates found online. It is something you should do on your own.
How to close a cover letter?
The majority of job seekers end their cover letters with generic phrases, such as "Looking forward to hearing from you" or "I would love to further discuss this opportunity with you"... There is nothing bad about this kind of closings but there is more you can do as you wrap up your accompanying letter. Leave the hiring manager wanting more by saying you want to discuss something specific you can do for the company. For example, "Could we schedule a call to talk about raising ABC Company's ROI by 20% within the next 5 months?"
Cover letter outline
It is best to stick to the standard cover letter outline. While creativity is a great skill that many employers love, messing with cover letter structure can do more harm than good. A good cover letter usually consists of three pagraphs:
Opening paragraph. This paragraph serves a simple purpose - to introduce you as an interested candidate. Name the specific position you are interested in as well as where you have found the information about the opening. Don't forget to mention a contact person if you have got one.
Middle paragraph. Employers often naturally look at this part of cover letters first because it should answer a simple question - why are you the best candidate? In this paragraph you have to sell your skills and proficienies to the potential employer. Mention relevant experience or accomplishments. Explain why you want this particular job. Prove you have what it takes to succeed.
Closing paragraph. It is a place to thank the potential employer for the opportunity. Also, restate your interest in the job and let them know you available for the call. Lastly, leave them wanting more by saying you would like to discuss something very specific you can do for their company.
How long should a cover letter be?
Cover letters shouldn't be longer than a full page (300 words). However, it is not about the length but about the content. All you have to do in a cover letter is answer three questions: 1) why do you want THIS job? 2) Wht do you want to work for THIS company? 3) Why YOU are the one that should be hired? These three questions are to define the length of every resume. One can do it in five sentences while others might need ten. Keep in mind that the optimal cover letter length is based on one's experience, career objectives, and qualifications.
What's the Purpose of a Cover Letter?
The purpose of a cover letter is NOT to duplicate your resume content in case the hiring managers missed something unlike many applicants appear to believe. It is to share your career story in a way that will give hiring manager a more detailed view of what you will be able to bring to the table if hired. In other words, the purpose of a cover letter is to say something you couldn't say on your resume or CV.
While many job seekers don't accept the idea that cover letters can make a huge difference in their job search process, others use it as an instrument to get a better standing in the eyes of prospective employers. Whether you write your cover letter on your own or choose to order cover letter writing service, make sure that in the end you have a document that is customized to a specific job opening. Now that you know what a good cover letter looks like, you can tweak your application package to land more interviews.