If you want to get a great job, there are a lot of things you need to do right. A quality education is a must, a great resume is critical, and dressing well for an interview can’t be ignored. However, when it comes to the most important details, one item is almost always ignored or treated casually, and that’s the cover letter. If you want to get a job, whether it’s as an entry-level clerk cashier or an upper-level management position, you need a great cover letter.
If you are like most people, you probably don’t write a cover letter whenever you apply for a job, and that’s a huge mistake. Equally problematic is writing a terrible cover letter. (Having a bad one can be worse than not having one at all.) To help you better understand why, when, and how to write your cover letter, we have assembled some useful information about this critical component of the job-application process.
Why You Need a Cover Letter
In order to earn a great job, you usually need to fill out a lengthy application. Once you are done with your application, you will need to submit a resume that lists your work experience, educational experience, and any other qualifications that might be relevant. If the application is to understand who you are and your resume says why you are qualified, why would you need to add a cover letter? Doesn’t that seem superfluous? The answer is a resounding no!
When HR directors or any other hiring managers look at applicants for a given position, they usually spend less than 10 seconds to place you in a yes/no pile. In reality, they usually spend 5 seconds, max. That’s barely enough time for you to get a sip of water! And even if you have an amazing resume, there is no possible way a hiring manager can absorb enough information to understand who you are and what your specific talents and abilities are in that amount of time. Luckily, there is a way to make sure they learn more about who you are, and that’s where a cover letter comes in.
A cover letter is like a personal letter to the individual who will be interviewing you or determining whether you fit the position. That means you have an opportunity to address someone directly and formally. Unlike resumes, most HR specialists or hiring managers will take more time to read a well-written cover letter . During that time, you have the opportunity to explain who you are, why you would be a good fit for their company and the specific position, and show your knowledge of their company. When you are not only able to show why you are a good fit, but that you also understand their company and its culture, your chances for earning a position increase dramatically.
What to Write and When to Use One
Just having a cover letter is not enough; as mentioned, if your cover letter isn’t written well, you will do more harm than good. There are key elements all cover letters must have if you wish to improve your chances of employment success. Here are the biggest things to focus on and remember.
• Structure: Make sure your cover letter is structured and formatted correctly. You can find plenty of style guides online that will help you use the proper fonts, font sizes, margins, and other key formatting points. The idea is to present relevant information succinctly and in a way that is easy to read.
• Audience: When you write a cover letter, you are writing to the person who will be hiring you, interviewing you (those two are not always the same), or working with you. Make sure your letter is addressed to the individual (or individuals) directly and speak to them formally. It will require you to do some research to find out who the person or group might be.
• Research: Find out absolutely everything you can about a company before you write your letter. Know when they were founded, who owns or manages the company, what their major milestones are, and anything else that relates to the position. You will use this information in the letter to show a hiring manager that you are in-tune with the company and will make the transition simple.
• Length: Your cover letter should usually be 1 page long. There are certain times when more or less will be necessary, but 3–4 solid paragraphs will suffice (including your introduction paragraph and conclusion paragraph).
• Edit: A single misspelled word can spell disaster for your chances. Edit carefully (and have others help).
• Sign: If and when possible, physically sign your name at the bottom of the document. The personal touch goes a long way.
So when should you use a cover letter? Anytime you can. In other words, the only time you should avoid using a cover letter is if the application or job description notes state that you should not. Other than that, you should write a personalized, custom cover letter for every job you apply for.
Experience, education, and a strong work ethic are going to allow you to succeed in any career. However, in order to get that career, you need to show yourself in the best possible way, and that’s exactly what a cover letter is for. Think of your cover letter like your pre-interview; you will be able to say what makes you special and a valuable asset of the company and make any hiring manager feel like they already know you before they meet you in person.
While a great cover letter is no guarantee that you will get a job, it will only help. In today’s world, quality jobs are more in-demand than ever. If you want to truly stand out and earn your dream job, a cover letter is the way to do so.