First, let’s put aside the idea you don’t need a cover letter. You do. A cover letter plays a crucial role in terms of winning a job interview.
Now we can move on to discussing what it is and what role it plays. A cover letter is concise–no more than a single page–and about 3-5 paragraphs which, in turn, are about four lines of text to keep an airy feel. Send the letter with your resume when applying for a job. If it is well done, your letter will help your resume get noticed by creating a good impression and generating interest for your professional achievements.
That short piece of text introduces you in the context of a role you believe you are qualified for. It is written in simple, direct language to eliminate any risk of misunderstanding, confusion or irritation.
You will find advice about cover letters which recommends making them formal. I say make your letter respectful – of your reader’s time and intelligence. And respectful of you – your track record, the time you invested and the care you took when applying. Remember also that your cover letter is the only opportunity for a bit of personal touch, which your resume can not do.
Unlike a resume, which convinces hiring managers of your abilities, a cover letter can convince about your enthusiasm for the position, show your high level of interest as well as your sound knowledge about the role.
What a cover letter is not is a repetition of your resume. And while some coaches suggest that you feature in your letter information that is not in your resume, my view is that anything you mention in your letter will be elaborated on in your resume. You don’t want to awaken your reader’s interest and then not satisfy it.
What is in it for the Employer?
Below is my three-step process for writing the cover letter.
1. Open with why they should hire you.
Explain clearly what role you are writing about. Refer clearly to the position you are applying for (including, possibly, where you saw it advertised or where you learned about it) so as to leave no doubt in your reader’s mind what job this letter is about. But of course you are not writing just because you happened to see an ad or hear about XYZ position: you mentioned the position to make it clear which one you are discussing but, more fundamentally, because you are ideally suited to it. You need to say this – in one or two sentences tops – upfront. This sets the tone for the rest of the letter. You are not writing about a job, you are writing because they need you. If you make your case well, your reader will not be able to help looking over your resume and you will be one step closer to the interview.
2. Tell them what you can do for them and how you will do it.
Now follows a series of 2-3 short paragraphs which elaborate on what you can do for the employer. This part promotes your achievements as a professional. Take care to echo some of the words of job description: that will make the connection between you and the job all the clearer and stronger.
The cover letter is short, so you need to be more selective about what you mention there. So don’t just tell them what you can do: illustrate how you work a story of something you achieved in the past – a story that continues to be told in your resume. That can prompt them to read your resume carefully, and allow the manager to easily understand what you can also do for the company.
3. Close with a bit of flourish.
A lot of cover letters end by thanking the reader for their consideration. That’s fine, but a formulaic conclusion that won’t register with a manager. Instead, I advocate writing a short paragraph that re-states your case for getting the position. But just like you can’t have repetition between your cover letter and your resume, you can’t repeat your opening statement in your closing. Use a little creativity and find another way to show you are right for the job. Most people don’t do this, so if you do and you succeed, you will stand out from your competition.
A final word: some cover letter experts recommend you mention that you will follow-up and to give an indication of when you will do so and how. My view is that you do mention that you will follow-up because it shows this application matters to you given that you believe your skills are a match. Following up makes perfect sense and shows your commitment. Do say how you will be in touch but don’t mention when. I think that makes you look just a bit too eager.