With the growing popularity of professional online profiles like LinkedIn paired with the minimal time recruiters spend looking at documents, there has been debate as to whether cover letters are still necessary. While there are arguments that the uptrend of applicant tracking systems (ATS) means cover letters are no longer read, many employers request them to be included with applications. It really comes down to the position you are applying for, the company and its size and the preferred method of the decision-maker.
What’s more, even if you aren’t required to send a cover letter, some experts suggest writing one anyway. Career coach Tara Orchard told Monster.ca that is always useful to create a formal cover letter. “Although you may decide not to include a copy with your application, it forces you to focus on the key points of who you are and what you have to offer,” she said.
With that in mind, we have crafted a list of tips to help you write the perfect cover letter.
Sifting through endless resumes and cover letters can be a tedious and often boring task for hiring managers, so start your cover letter off with something to grab their attention and pique their interest. Get creative.
Compliment the company and tell them what you love about it. State an accomplishment that makes you a perfect fit for the job. Explain why you are passionate about the company/industry/position. If you need a little inspiration, here are some examples of attention-grabbing opening lines.
Career coach Marla Williams says her number one tip is to write your cover letter from their perspective. “Most cover letters I see include a whole lot of ‘I this, I that and it is all about me,” she explains. “What you want to focus on is how will they benefit from what you know.”
Think about the power of writing your cover letter in a way that tells the employer how they will benefit from your skills and experience.
So, instead of saying, “I have five years of experience with software X,” try something like, “My extensive experience with software X will mean having a shorter learning curve and becoming productive quickly at the company.”
If you have experience with any of the programs, software or platforms the company uses, it goes without saying that you should mention these in your cover letter.
Keep the cover letter short (one page), effective and informative. “You don’t have to write a full autobiography – and even if you did, no one has time to read it,” career coach Tonya Echols says.
She also said it’s important to know your audience – take note if your resume is going through a recruiter, human resources or the hiring manager directly. Keep in mind that it may go through several layers of review, so don’t try to make the letter overly personalized toward one person or another in the process.
“The cover letter is also an opportunity to explain any known red flags you may have such as an employment gap. Sometimes your resume doesn’t speak for itself, so it is better to give prospective employers some background to help fill in any blanks rather than have them draw their own conclusions that will most likely not be in your favor,” Tonya explains.
Your cover letter is the perfect place to state you accomplishments in more detail than a resume allows.
“Decide which of your accomplishments are of the most interest to the job for which you’re applying. You will need to tailor the list for different roles, or industries. Don’t list them alphabetically or chronologically, always rank the bulleted list in order of importance to the reader,” says coach Terry DellaVecchia.
Tailor your cover letter to the company and the job. “Don’t put out the same letter (with contact info changed) every time you submit an application . Instead customize to the company’s needs, culture, etc.,” advises coach Mary Kruger.
Take it a step further by researching the company and including something specific about them, Mary suggests. For example: “I recently read in the Globe and Mail that your company is expanding their northern operations. I have experience related to this in …”
Check out websites, talk to people in the company if possible and try to use industry, culture and company words.
“It’s never too early to show your knowledge or potential value. Try to reference information specific to the the company that exemplifies how your skills can benefit their operations. Do some research about recent activities such as acquisitions and new business lines that you might contribute to in the future,” advises Tonya Echols.
Starting with the old-fashioned, “To whom it may concern” is not ideal, so find out who the decision-maker is and address the letter to them, says Mary Kruger. You can call the company reception to inquire who the hiring manager is or look it up online if it is not clearly stated on the job posting.
If all else fails and you cannot get the person’s name or there are multiple people it may go to, opt for something like “Dear hiring manager” or even addressing it to the company by name.
Coach Lisa Pachence has a great formula she uses with her clients when they’re writing cover letters.
Career coach Lynden Kidd says that perfect cover letters motivate the reader to instantly want to read the resume in detail and leaves no room for question that the author is a match and has much to offer the company. “My clients are having terrific success with the ‘T’ format. This approach assures the resume is read and the candidate moves to the next step in the screening process. This can be especially true when the initial resume screen is conducted by someone who is not a functional expert. (For example, where the HR Department is collecting resumes and doing the first screen against required criteria to narrow submissions for a hiring manager in a technical niche.)”
The T format is clean, easy to read and juxtaposes the company’s requirements against the candidate’s qualifications. When done well – it’s easy to see the candidate is a match on key and required qualifications.
|Your Requirements||My Qualifications|
|Spanish||Spanish (Bachelor’s Degree)
“Remember, the success of this style cover letter is that the information is easy to read and clear to the reader. Skills may be combined,” she says.
You’ve probably heard that humans digest information better when it is in the form of a story instead of just stated facts, so write your cover letter this way and you’re sure to stand out.
“A cover letter is your chance to add a little bit of depth to the somewhat data-driven nature of a resume. Use it to allow a bit of who your are to shine through and to provide emphasis for certain skills and past experience,” Tonya Echols suggests.
While it is important to let your personality shine through, the truth is, we aren’t all amazing writers. So, if you have a friend that is an English major or just has a way with words, ask them to read it over and get some tips. It is also good to have another set of eyes look at it or even better, have them read it out loud. Doing so will make run-on sentences and repetitive parts of your cover letter stand out.
If you want professional help in writing your cover letter, hiring a career coach is another great option. They can not only help you with this, but with other aspects of your job search, such as writing your resume, sharpening your online profile and looking for jobs in the right places.
Thinking of hiring a career coach to help you craft the perfect cover letter and resume and find your dream job? Browse our directory of career coaches and get a FREE consultation or request a personalized coach recommendation!
Kristen is the editor and community manager at Noomii.com and the Noomii Career Blog. Kristen's desire to ask questions and share information with others led her to pursue journalism. While she has worked at various publications, covering everything from municipal politics to local restaurants, it was her love of self-improvement and sharing inspiration with others that made Noomii the perfect fit. Connect with Kristen on Twitter and LinkedIn.