You’ve spent hours, days, and maybe even weeks finessing your resume, only to realize you forgot about the age-old cover letter.
In a time where it is possible to apply for a job with a ‘one click’ application, you may think to yourself, “Is a cover letter necessary anymore?” “Does anyone even read these?”
The answer is tricky, because it depends. While some employers do still ask for them in some shape or form, others are phasing them out as a way to be more efficient in their hiring processes.
Required or not, when you boil down the purpose of a cover letter, it is to make yourself stand out to a future employer—a tried-and-true method for landing a job interview.
If you’re looking for ways to stand out in addition to your resume, having a cover letter on-hand (just in case) can only help you. Looking for advice on how to get started? Here are seven tips.
Write your cover letter with the mindset that someone is going to read it
While you may question if your cover letter is going to be read—if an employer is asking for it, assume they intend on reading it. For this reason, make sure you aren’t rushed when you decide to get started. We recommend having your cover letter created before you dive into job applications—this way you aren’t taken by surprise if one is required. If time allows, try to have a peer review your work. A cover letter’s purpose is to highlight your skills, but it also serves as a writing sample. You’ll want to ensure there are no errors and that everything reads clearly.
Don’t be afraid to get creative
Consider how many cover letters will be submitted for the same job you’ll be applying to. Will yours look like everyone else’s? To help yourself stand out, think about adding hints of neutral colors that induce a sense of authenticity and tranquility, such as green or blue. These will help differentiate your piece but won’t be too distracting.
Fortunately, there’s no one-size-fits-all template for a cover letter—so you have some freedom to be creative. Just remember to be consistent with whatever creative elements you decide to add, and don’t overdo it.
Include information that can’t be obtained from your resume
Chances are, if an employer is asking for a cover letter, they’re also asking for your resume. In order to not be repetitive, be sure to include information in your cover letter that they otherwise couldn’t find in your resume.
Use this as an opportunity to write about projects you’ve worked on, challenges you’ve conquered in the work place, and what soft skills make you a great employee and fit for the role.
Don’t bury the lead
Think “stuff,” not “fluff.” You don’t want your cover letter to come off as “cold,” but you also want it to be succinct and to the point. The person reading your letter will likely be strapped for time, so try to include the important stuff at the top, and avoid including unimportant information for the sake of lengthening your letter. In some cases, less is more.
Sometimes, being overly formal can come off as insincere. When it comes to making a first impression, you’ll want to be professional, but also be yourself.
In terms of the language you should use, refrain from adding cliché and vague words to describe your capabilities.
Common clichés include using words such as, “team player,” “detail-oriented,” or “perfect fit” to highlight your skills. Instead, discuss a time in which you worked harmoniously on a team to successfully complete a project, or used your attention to detail to finalize a piece of work.
When it comes to addressing your cover letter— avoid using, “To whom it may concern.” This is formal, but can show you didn’t want to make an effort to be more personal.
Try to do some digging online or on LinkedIn to find out who the hiring manager is for the role. If you absolutely can’t figure it out, address the letter as, “Dear Hiring Manager.”
Tweak as needed
Remember, you may want to highlight different skills and accomplishment depending on the role you’re applying to. This is why your cover letter should not be used “as is” for all your applications.
Do your research for the role and company to learn more about what they require and value. Before hitting “submit,” be sure to make any changes if they are necessary.
Think about other ways you can utilize your content
Now that you’ve spent time to write a cover letter that highlights your skills and professional accomplishments—think about other ways you can use the content. Some applications won’t require a cover letter, but may ask for an optional small paragraph to describe yourself and why you’d be a good fit for the role. Other applications may be done via email, in which case you’ll need to include something in the body of your message. These are a few opportunities where it may make sense to use bits and pieces of your cover letter. These are also examples of instances where the cover letter may be phasing out, but the information within one is still important to share.
Of course, if a cover letter is not asked for, do not attach one. Including one anyway may show you can’t follow instructions, and that is not the first impression you want to make.