The cover letter you submit along with your résumé isn’t just a throwaway; it’s an extremely important part of your job application.
Your cover letter provides a great opportunity to make your case directly to the hiring manager.
Take advantage of this opportunity by customizing your cover letter for each job application.
The bad news is that people who screen résumés and cover letters typically go through them very quickly, usually spending just a few seconds on each.
The good news is that they’re actively looking for something great, something to like.
Most applicants aren’t good fits. If you tailor your cover letter to highlight the fit between your experience and the job description, you’ll grab your reader’s attention and dramatically improve your odds of ending up in the “maybe” file rather than the much larger “no” file.
These dos and don’ts can help:
- Use templates. Although you should tailor your cover letter for every job you apply for, developing a few different cover letter templates to work from can help streamline your application process.
- Use a name. Address a particular person in your salutation. Try to avoid “to whom it may concern” if possible. Even “to the hiring manager” is preferable.
- Explain yourself. State why you’re writing and for which job you’re applying. If you’re writing at the suggestion of a mutual acquaintance, say so and mention how you know that person.
- Refer to your résumé. Draw your reader’s attention to information on the résumé that’s particularly relevant to your application for this particular job.
- Sell yourself. Focus on what you have to offer the employer, not what the job can offer you.
- Write in your own voice. Your cover letter is a business letter, so it should be businesslike. However, you’ll make a stronger impression if you avoid “business-ese.” Your tone should be intelligent, polite and professional, as though you’re addressing a senior colleague.
- Keep it brief. Your objective is just to pique the reader’s interest, not mount a long argument. You can go into more detail during the interview.
- Proofread. Read it through a few times, and ask a friend to proofread for you. Typos, spelling mistakes and other errors make you look like you don’t care. Ensure that your letter is perfect.
Don’t Rehash Your Résumé
Your résumé states facts. Use the cover letter to put an analytical spin on those facts and make an argument for your candidacy.
Your cover letter should motivate the reader to look carefully at your résumé, not simply reiterate the information there.
Don’t Explain the Company
Your reader knows that their employer is the world’s leader in aeronautical design or the country’s fastest-growing insurance provider or the region’s largest employer of technology graduates or whatever other superlative you might find.
Your job in the cover letter is to explain why you’re a great fit for that job at that company.
Don’t Fudge About Salary Issues
Companies ask about salary history because they are trying to see if you fit within their budget. If you’re uncomfortable providing information about your current salary, instead provide a salary range that you would be willing to accept.
Rather than looking at your cover letter as yet another thankless task in the job search process — that last thing you have to write after you’ve already exhausted yourself writing your résumé — look at it as a terrific opportunity to communicate with the hiring manager even before you’re called in for an interview.
Most of your competitors are enclosing a pro-forma note that says, basically, “Hey, here’s my résumé.”
By creating a thoughtful and customized cover letter for each job application, you can make yourself stand out from the crowd and improve your chances of getting an interview.