If your resume is the first impression the employer has of you, then the first impression of your first impression is your cover letter. Whether it is a formal document sent with your resume or how you write the email that delivers your resume, a cover letter, in any form, is still a vital part of you getting the job you want.
One of the most common mistakes people make when writing their own cover letter is to focus on what they are looking for in a job. This reflects a misunderstanding of your cover letter strategy and what a cover letter is for. To understand what a cover letter is for, it is first important to understand why you will get hired.
You will get hired for two reasons, and two reasons only:
- The employer has a need.
- He or she believes you are the best candidate to fulfill that need.
Let’s take a simple example. Company X wishes to start email marketing campaigns to generate awareness about their product but don’t have anyone on staff with digital marketing experience. Hence, company X has a need for a digital marketer. If your cover letter, resume, and LinkedIn profile showcases experience in email campaigns that have successfully increased product awareness, and the other requirements company X is looking for, better than the other candidates, (barring other considerations) you will get the job.
If company X was not starting a marketing campaign, they would not be hiring anyone. If you don’t have the skills and experience they are looking for, you won’t be considered. Simple, right?
Now we can understand the overall purpose of your cover letter. You should identify what a company is in need of (hint: that is what a job lead is), and you must construct your cover letter to briefly detail how your skills and experience match the employer’s needs.
Another important item to know about your cover letter is:
COVER LETTER » RESUME » INTERVIEW» JOB » LIVING HAPPILY EVER AFTER
Your cover letter should be a bite-sized version of your resume, your resume should be a bite-sized document about your career history, and during the interview, you present a bite-sized version of yourself.
The cover letter should echo the key skills, experience, and accomplishments that are in your resume. Depending upon your career history and job target, you might have older work that is only noted in your resume but not detailed to avoid ageism and save space. The cover letter is an additional opportunity to add outstanding accomplishments and skills that the employer needs to see. Your cover letter must be compelling and “force” the employer to NEED (not want) to read your resume. Your resume should be compelling to “force” the employer to NEED to speak with you, and your interview should “force” the employer to NEED to hire you.
Now that we know the overall theme of the cover letter, let’s get to some key details:
- Name Dropping. Try to address the letter to a definite person, rather than “Sir,” “Ma’am,” or “Dear Hiring Manager.” That is what every other candidate does. Even if you are finding the job on the large job boards, try to google any identifying information in the job lead to find what company it is and who the HR manager is that will be reading your resume. Searching on LinkedIn makes your work easier since you can generally see the company and contact person immediately.
- Short and Sweet. The cover letter should be very concise. Most employers and recruiters do not spend time reading through a long cover letter. There should be an intro, two or three brief paragraphs, perhaps a bulleted section of a few accomplishments, and your concluding call to action. Aim for less than a full page.
- Customize. While you might be targeting a certain position like UX designer, IT manager, or HR director, that has certain definite responsibilities and functions, try to find something unique about the company you are applying to, and edit your letter to reflect this uniqueness. Every other candidate has a template they throw out everywhere and wonder why they never get responses. Apple experiences unique challenges from Google and Samsung. Start-ups have different needs and challenges than an established corporation. Make your cover letter speak the language of who is reading it.
- Grand Finale. End with a call to action. Your final paragraph should emphasize why you are the best match for the opening and request a call or email or whatever is the next step in the interview process. Include again your phone and email (even though it should be in the page header).
Review your letter for grammar, spelling, organization, and a clear, concise format with enough white space. A letter that has a single mistake or appears disorganized, while maybe full of awesome content, can be your death knell. Believe in yourself. You are a unique, talented individual with enormous strengths and potential. Let your cover letter reflect that.