If you’ve read my thoughts on The Résumé, you’re on your way to getting hired by overhauling your application process. If you haven’t read it, well… you should. Like, right now.
Now that you’ve got an attractive, information-packed, error free résumé, it’s time to write the cover letter. For me, the cover letter comes after I’ve finished tailoring my résumé to the job. This way I can pull key information from my résumé, and sum up what it is that makes me a great fit for the job. While the cover letter should highlight your strengths and experience, it shouldn’t regurgitate everything covered in your résumé like the written version of a mother bird.
The Opener: Address the person hiring you. Avoid “Dear Ma’am or Sir” or “To Whom It May Concern” type statements. Get a name if at all possible. In your opening paragraph, I was taught to mention the job you are applying for and how you learned about it. Often, companies hire for multiple positions at the same time, so clarifying what you’re interested in is helpful.
There are mixed feelings out there, though, about mentioning how you learned about the job. If you saw it on Craigslist or Monster, it might not be worth mentioning. If you have a referral from inside the company, or someone in the hiring manager’s network, that definitely is worth mentioning.
The Content: Again, the goal here isn’t to list every job feature and skill that your résumé covers. While that can be tailored to the job you’re applying for, it also serves to show where you’ve been and what you’ve done. The cover letter is a chance to show how that experience fills their need so nicely. Make the connections for them.
The Tone: Be confident and respectful! I try to use statements like “… are skills that I will bring to the team at XYZ company.” See what happened there? I feel this is confident, but not cocky. There’s a difference between giving your reader a subconsciously positive feeling about what you can do for them, and actually saying “I’m obviously the best candidate for the job”. Resist the temptation to use humor. It very rarely comes across as natural, and can create an awkward moment you aren’t even there to share with them.
The Closer: This is the hook. Sum it up (see my example, above). I love closing statements like “I look forward to hearing from you soon and setting up an interview time.” Again, to me, this feels confident, but not pushy. It’s just signaling that you know you got the right stuff. And as always, thank them for their time and consideration. It really can be brutal looking through stacks of applications.
Remember, this should be tailored to the job, and a good overview of why you’re qualified. It’s great to use specific examples, but maybe not to list literally skills and experience you have. Keep your length definitely under one page, with professional heading and signature line included. I shoot for more of a half page of text, and then add my header and signature.
Good luck, job seeker! What are your best tips for cover letters? Have you used one before? Do you have any awkward moment stories you’d like to share with the class?