The cover letter that accompanies your resume is an important piece of correspondence during your job search. It introduces you to a prospective employer and showcases your career experience. Use it to highlight your most relevant and transferable skills and convince them that it is worth their time to interview and potentially hire you.
As important as cover letters are, it seems as though it can often be an after thought when preparing to apply for a job. Be sure to take time to craft a strong cover letter to communicate key skills you have that make you a strong candidate for the job opening.
Steps to Impactful Cover Letters:
- Read the posting or job description and identify key skill areas. Identifying key skills is an important aspect of reading job postings and advertisements. Key words can signal what an employer considers important or essential in hiring for a position. Look carefully, then highlight or underline words following “a qualified candidate will demonstrate” or other areas that identify transferable skills.
- Use your research to identify key skills areas. Use knowledge gathered from informational interviews or the company’s website if a job posting or advertisement is not available.
- Rank skill areas in order of importance. Now that you’ve identified a number of key skills, you’ll need to narrow your focus. For instance, are leadership skills more important than interpersonal skills? Is a degree more important than work experience? Is computer expertise more important than analytical skills? Often, the most important key skills are mentioned multiple times in the posting or come up often in your research, or are listed as “essential qualifications” in a posting.
- Identify proof of your qualifications. Next, prove that you have the key skills that the company is looking for in an ideal candidate. Examples can come from your work, education, volunteer, or extra-curricular experience. Unique examples can make you stand out as a candidate. Three or four skills are usually appropriate for each letter.
- Tailor your letter. Mention that you have the key skills (using words as similar to those the company uses to make it obvious), then give specific evidence and outcome statements to prove you’re qualified.
Cover Letter Do’s and Don’ts
- Send a tailored letter to each employer. Target a specific position.
- Address your letter to a named individual. Avoid “Dear Sir or Madam” and “to whom it may concern.” Always address your letter to the specific hiring manager when possible. Call the company and ask if you’re uncertain as to the correct contact. In the case that you are not able to identify this person, you may open with “Dear Hiring Manager for [name of position].”
- Use the first paragraph to grab the employer’s attention and highlight your company research.
- Use the second paragraph to speak to the specific requirements of the job, especially when responding to an ad or when you have a job description.
- Keep things simple. Using complicated, lengthy sentences will make your letter cumbersome and difficult to read for recruiters. Keep it articulate and easy to understand. Also, don’t use more than one page.
- Quantify and give examples of your skills and qualifications that prove that you can do what you say you can do.
- Mention the skills and characteristics that are the most impressive. Remember, you only have a few seconds to make an impact, so don’t make them search for your best skills.
- Try to answer the question, “Why should I hire this person?” Always mention what makes you better than the other candidates for this same position. Do this by indicating how you can add value.
- Avoid negative statements – this includes previous jobs, supervisors, etc.
- Leave it up to the recruiter or hiring manager to contact you. Unless you are specifically discouraged from doing so, let the person know when you will be contacting them and then do it. You will greatly increase your odds of getting interviews if you call them instead of waiting for a call.
- Use a cover letter to apologize for grades, lack of experience, etc. Instead, present all of the positive things you offer.
- Send out mass mailings of your cover letter and résumé. This has extremely low odds for success in today’s job market. Personalize and individualize each letter.
- Focus your letter on what the company can do for you. Rather, tell them what you can do for them. Focus on how you can contribute to the success of the organization.
- Walk step-by-step trough your résumé. A recruiter can read your résumé. Use your cover letter to highlight the things that you want to call attention to.
- Forget to personally sign the letter if sending in hard copy!