We asked career experts to share their insights on the purpose of a cover letter when applying for a job.
Here are their advice:
Table of Contents
- A cover letter helps personalize, customize, and highlight how your abilities match the employer’s needs
- The true purpose of a cover letter is to make an impression that leads to further consideration
- A cover letter narrates an applicant’s story
- A cover letter indicates an applicant’s desire
- A cover letter gives a picture of the applicant’s personal brand
- A cover letter reveals the skillset
- A cover letter helps you get an interview by graphically showing your qualifications
- Cover letters serve an important purpose because they humanize your resume
- A cover letter allows you to showcase your communication skills
- A cover letter allows you to describe your value
- A cover letter allows you to explain gaps in your resume
- A cover letter sets you apart from others as it mirrors extra attention and effort
- A cover letter provides a brief overview of your background and qualifications
- A cover letter entices the reader to keep going and review the resume
- A cover letter is your chance to set the tone for the entirety of your candidate process
- A strong cover letter embodies your personality
- A cover letter tells the employer what you would like to get out of the position
- The main purpose of a cover letter is to show the hiring manager how you’ll add value to the organization
- A cover letter provides insight into your personal and professional essence
- A cover letter is your your biggest shot at standing out in the candidate pool
- The purpose of the cover letter is not to copy everything that’s already attached to your resume
- A cover letter mirrors your first impression
- A cover letter is the justification why your candidacy should be taken seriously
- A cover letter is a way of sharing career backstory with HR
- A cover letter is the “why”
- A cover letter reveals the ‘story’ behind an applicant’s career and job application
- A cover letter shows personality while revealing the passion of the candidate
The power of the “T” square cover letter increase response rate by 50%.
Can you dramatically increase your response rate when you apply for a job? Absolutely. How? By using the “T” square cover letter; a classic ride-along note enclosed with your application & resume clarifying why “you are the answer” to the employer’s needs.
A cover letter helps personalize, customize, and highlight how your abilities match the employer’s needs
Written correctly, a cover letter will contain up to 99% of the key words of the position. This is because the unique key words for this position lie hidden in the requirements for the actual position you are applying for.
History of the “T” square cover letter
Believe it or not, the “T” Square Cover Letter has been around since the typewriter. In the Stone Age (long before technology and programs like Word, where you can simply insert a 2 column table. Back then you would literally have to draw a “T” with a ballpoint pen.
I actually did this early in my career, while I was job searching. It was responsible for the interview and ultimately my job.
How to create the “T” square cover letter:
- Start with an introductory paragraph. Be sure to list the name of the position and position number. End the paragraph with: “I feel particularly qualified because…”
- In the second paragraph, insert a 2 column table. Label the top of the first column “YOUR REQUIREMENTS” The second column should be labeled “MY ABILITIES”
- List each REQUIREMENT in the order listed (in column one); in bullet format. Then match each requirement with your matching ABILITY (in column two).
- In your concluding paragraph, end with: “You will hear from me shortly.” This lets the employer know that you will be calling to follow up.
How to find keywords:
The “T” square cover letter uncovers the unique key words (which are the list of the employer’s requirements) for the position in a format that no other cover letter can.
Because employer needs and keywords are the same things, the “T” square cover letter enables you to pierce the shield of Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) by highlighting your unique skill set as it matches against the key words for the position.
Utilizing the “T” square cover letter “feeds” the Applicant Tracking System. The higher you “score” against the keywords of the position, the higher the chances of you “passing through” the Applicant Tracking System software and into the hands of a real, breathing human being.
Associate Vice President, University of Houston System | General Manager, Houston Public Media
The true purpose of a cover letter is to make an impression that leads to further consideration
If you are in the job market right now, I want to offer some encouragement and strategy for getting the job you want and the one that will position you for future success.
Always spend as much time on the cover letter as on your resume. Using the same generic cover letter will tell your employer that their position is one of many to which you’re applying. It will convey that you’re playing the numbers game—the more applications, the more likely you’ll be hired. That may be true.
It’s also true that a generic cover letter won’t set you apart. These days there may be dozens of qualified applicants for every opening.
How will an employer decide whom to interview? You be the judge.
Applicant A: Cover letter example
Dear Hiring Manager,
I am happy to offer my resume and application for the position of a data analyst. I believe you’ll find I am qualified and experienced. I pride myself on going above and beyond expectations. I have an excellent track record and would welcome the opportunity to be part of your team.
My key strengths are:
– Attention to detail
– Excellent communication and listening skills
– Team player
– Problem solving
Thank you for taking the time to review my application. I look forward to hearing back from you.
Applicant B: Cover letter example
Dear Mr. James,
I’ve been closely following how ABC Corp has responded to customers, staff and as a voice for the transportation industry during the global pandemic. It’s inspiring to see the leadership your company has demonstrated.
I’m applying for the position of Senior Data Analyst and believe I have the experience and qualifications that align with ABC Corp’s standard of excellence. ABC Corp’s values of teamwork, integrity and opportunity speak to being a great place to work.
Here are the key strengths I offer ABC Corp:
– I graduated with honors from my University by being committed to academic leadership.
– I have track record of performance that has led to increasing levels of responsibility at my current employer.
– I have invested in professional development through industry conferences and volunteer board service.
The opportunity to be part of ABC Corp is exciting to me. Thank you for taking the time to review my resume and cover letter. I can be reached at [email protected], and my phone number is 953-000-6759.
Which applicant makes the cut for you?
Applicant A didn’t make a mistake, and Applicant A didn’t make an impression; they didn’t even address the hiring manager by name. Applicant B stood out by clearly stating why they should be a contender. They addressed their potential new boss by name and started building a relationship.
That is the true purpose of a cover letter—to make an impression that leads to further consideration, such as an assessment or an interview.
Now that you know the true purpose of a cover letter is to set you apart—you can develop a strategy for writing the letter.
Open: Talk about the company first. Show that you know what is important to the employer. This is easily learned from their website or people who already work there.
Middle: What are your strengths, how can you contribute, name your accomplishments and successes. What motivates you? In three bullets, Applicant B stated that they will work hard to achieve (committed to academic leadership), have been recognized for success (increasing levels of responsibility), and are self-driven (invested in professional development). The middle section could be 5 or more bullets. Try to keep the cover letter to one page.
Close: Show gratitude for the time taken to review the application and cover letter, include contact information, and optimism about the next step.
Now, for the encouragement: Even during the pandemic, there have been than 6 million jobs open each month. There is one for you. The best cover letters are written when you are truly interested in the industry and company to which you are applying. Ground your interest in research, talking to friends who work in the field, and thinking deeply about what you want now and where you want it to lead.
You hold the greatest influence over your career success. Show excitement for the opportunity through positioning your strengths and talents. Invest the time and effort in writing the kind of cover letter that blows away the hiring manager.
It’s not only the next step to being hired; it is the first step in building rapport with the person who could be your next boss.
A cover letter narrates an applicant’s story
We have heard the discouraging statistics in the last 10 months about workers in the U.S. losing their jobs due to the impact of COVID-19.
As the reduction in available positions is reflective of not only the hard-hit sectors of hospitality and entertainment but also for employers hesitant to commitment to expansion in a time of uncertainty, job seekers will need to try harder than ever before to stand out to potential employers, with cover letters offering the perfect opportunity to narrate their stories.
With more organizations opting for online applications and resume submission in the last two decades, it is no surprise that many job searchers believe that cover letters are optional or even a waste of time.
However, completing an online application and uploading a resume into a recruiting database rarely allows employers to read the job candidate’s full story, looking simply for keywords.
Given how many individuals have flooded back into the job market since last spring, they may be dozens and even hundreds of applicants for every position, depending on the job sector and region of the country.
To catch an employer’s attention, every effort should be made to stand out with an attractive, concrete, and meaningful cover letter. The best way to do this:
- Use a professional, business format and keep the cover letter to one page, with a combination of paragraphs and bulleted statements.
- The first paragraph should be 2-3 sentences in length and provide the background of how the applicant learned of the position and why the position is a good fit for the applicant’s skills, education, and interests.
- The second paragraph includes 2-3 sentences that outline the applicant’s traits and accomplishments that are most relevant to the job responsibilities and the organization’s culture.
- List 3-5 bullet points that offer specific examples of education, experience, or characteristics that match what the employer is seeking.
- The final paragraph should outline in 3-4 sentences how the applicant will follow-up, hopes for an interview, and is very interested in this specific position with this particular organization. Include contact information (phone number and email address) here for ease of access.
Related: How to End a Cover Letter
Writing a cover letter specific to each employer and role offers the perfect opportunity for a job applicant to present valuable information to get an employer’s attention and explain any gaps or questions that could arise from a review of the candidate’s resume or other application materials.
Think of a cover letter as a taco shell. It holds the ingredients (experience, education, skills, accomplishments) together in an organized package to make it easier to consume quickly.
A cover letter indicates an applicant’s desire
Someone that puts the effort into a unique, non-canned cover letter is someone who has done their research and actually visualized a future at my firm. So the desire they bring to the table is already high in my eyes. Plus!
A cover letter gives a picture of the applicant’s personal brand
The cover letter already begins to tell the story of one’s journey to my desk, and hopefully the aspirations they have for themselves once they work with me.
What they hope to learn and gain. How they already apply these things in their work and personal lives – just little check marks that are noted along the way to – “Can I picture this person working with and meshing with my firm and the company’s brand?”
A cover letter reveals the skillset
The cover letter acts as a writing sample. So, this can be telling of how comfortable they are reaching out to people, putting their personality on paper, and how much thought they’ve put into things like; titles, paragraphs, ideas, and long-form thought.
Are they convincing? Compelling? Do they “get how this works”?
I will qualify this by saying, “I own a Public Relations and marketing firm, so the comfort level of employees who ‘get’ how to stand out, and how to write and form creative, intelligent, and concise prose, is going to shine through for me.” – That’s part of the skill sets I look for.
Former Headhunter | Recruiter | Author, “When Can You Start? The Insider’s Guide to Job Search and Career Success”
A cover letter helps you get an interview by graphically showing your qualifications
The fastest and most effective way to get my attention is by using a table with two columns; the left is for the position requirements, the right column for your qualifications.
Quote the requirements (in quote marks) in the left column, and, in the same language as the requirements, list your qualifications matching the requirements in the right column.
- Use the terms from the left side verbatim on the right side
- Be specific.
- Be brief.
- Respond to all the requirements if possible. If you can’t respond to three or more requirements, don’t respond at all.
- Don’t tell me you’re a team player, ethical professional, etc. You say that, but you’re looking for a job so you’ll say anything. Information about you must be completely objective, not subjective.
- Don’t tell me the wonderful things you’ve heard about my company; this is blatant sucking up.
- Don’t tell me you have 10 years’ experience when I’m only asking for three. I will drop you because you’re overqualified and too expensive. “Over three years experience” will do nicely.
- Don’t respond to the duties and responsibilities section unless you have already responded to the requirements. You must respond to the requirements.
- Don’t exceed one and a half pages in length.
Allison D. Weidhaas, PhD
Associate Professor, Rider University | Director of MA programs (Business Communication & Health Communication)
Cover letters serve an important purpose because they humanize your resume
While most of us dread writing a cover letter because it’s one more step in an already cumbersome job search process, cover letters should not be overlooked, even if the application indicates that a cover letter is optional.
Cover letters serve an important purpose because they humanize your resume. They bring out important parts of your experiences, and they help people to see you as a person rather than a series of disconnected bullet points.
When you think of cover letters as communicating about your important experiences, this can help you shape what to include and exclude.
Ultimately, you want to highlight the significant experiences that you think will be attractive to the potential employer.
For example, if you are applying for a job that requires writing, the cover letter provides you with an opportunity to discuss your writing experience in more depth than you can do in a resume. In several well-articulated sentences, you can describe the writing you provided for an organization, reactions from readers, and perhaps even the circulation of that publication (if that seems important to your potential employer).
It is important to note that a cover letter, while more detailed than a resume, typically should not go beyond one page.
(Note: There are some exceptions, such as academic cover letters, but in most cases, people don’t want to read lengthy documents.)
One reason people opt to avoid cover letters is that they don’t know how to start them. The first paragraph should include the job you’re applying for and, importantly, if anyone recommended that you apply for the position. You are more likely to get a call for a job interview if the person knows the individual recommending you for the job.
This is something you can include in a resume and, if available, should be in the first sentence of your cover letter.
When you write a cover letter, you want to use the inverted pyramid approach, which places the most important information at the top and moves down from there. The inverted pyramid assumes the reader might not read the entire letter. It’s possible the reader only skims the first paragraph and calls you for a job interview.
As you apply for jobs, I recommend saving your cover letters because often, you can tweak a previous cover letter for a different job. The first cover letter is often the hardest to write, but it’s worth the effort.
Managing Director, Intrinsic Search
A cover letter allows you to showcase your communication skills
The ability to write well is a prized skill in today’s business environment where companies communicate with customers, employees, and other shareholders through the written word on platforms such as social media and email.
Strong written communication is also a demonstration of your critical thinking skills, which is another quality that employers are looking for to help them stay ahead of the game in a competitive marketplace.
A cover letter allows you to describe your value
Reading a bullet list of your skills and competencies alone does not completely give a clear picture of what you are capable of and how you fit into the role you are applying for.
A cover letter gives you a great opportunity to tie together your skills and strengths and show the employer/hiring manager/recruiter how you will put these to use and help the employer meet their goals.
In the cover letter, you can give anecdotal evidence of your experience, background, and your suitability for the role, something that you obviously cannot do in a resume.
A cover letter allows you to explain gaps in your resume
Gaps in your resume can easily be a deal-breaker but this doesn’t have to be the case, because sometimes life happens and you cannot avoid such career gaps.
That said, you could increase your chance of being called in for an interview if you explained these career gaps and the cover letter offers you the perfect opportunity to do this.
Keep in mind though that you should not delve into personal matters when explaining your hiatus. A cover letter like a resume is strictly a business document.
Anne M. Barnwell, NCRW, CPRW
Certified Professional Resume Writer, The Write Resumes
Is a cover letter important to employers?
The research varies widely on how recruiters view the cover letter’s importance. When recruiters are asked if they consider cover letters, responses have ranged from 18 to 86%, making those studies meaningless.
A cover letter sets you apart from others as it mirrors extra attention and effort
The importance I give to cover letters is more antidotal. When I write a customized cover letter for the “perfect” job, my clients get the interview.
You can argue that because this was the perfect job for them, the employer recognized that same great fit but with hundreds of resumes to scan through, that seems unlikely. Instead, I believe the extra attention and customization are what set them apart.
How to write a cover letter that gets results?
In a nutshell, your resume is about you, your cover letter is about the company. How are you going to help the company succeed?
- Target the industry and company. That does not mean you need to start new for each letter. Write your template with the main points you will share with most of your applications, then customize it for that job. You’ll get better results by connecting with the company’s values, mission, and challenges.
- Highlight your top achievements and required skills. Don’t repeat the language from the resume word for word. Highlight the most important information and give the recruiter a compelling reason to learn more by reading your resume.
- Give answers to questions you know the recruiter will ask. Do you have a gap in your work history, or are you applying for a job in California and you live in Kansas? Give a one-sentence explanation in your cover letter and help that recruiter move on to the important information, your accomplishments.
- Brief is better. My ideal length is around 250 words. Enough to get and keep the recruiter’s interest. If I write a longer cover letter, it is only when I need to outline a specific personal connection or provide greater clarity for a potential red flag.
- Ask for the interview. Yes, it is that simple.
When shouldn’t you include a cover letter?
The only time I don’t recommend a cover letter is when the application instructions tell you to not include one. Otherwise, a cover letter won’t hurt you and when done correctly, has the potential to get you the interview.’
Ron Auerbach, MBA
Educator | Career Coach | Job Search Expert | Author, “Think Like an Interviewer: Your Job Hunting Guide to Success”
A cover letter provides a brief overview of your background and qualifications
So it’s designed to briefly explain what you offer a company and why they should even consider you for employment. Then your resume or CV goes into a lot more detail.
Your cover letter should be, at most, a page. And in terms of the number of paragraphs, it’s 4–5 short paragraphs.
Related: How Long Should a Cover Letter Be
Here is the basic structure or layout of a cover letter:
- Introduction: Why you’re writing to them. So it’s the job to which you’re applying or you are inquiring if they have any available jobs for you.
- Paragraph 2: Details about why you’re somebody worth considering for employment. So you’re discussing what makes you a good candidate for that job and/or working for that company.
- Some job seekers will use another paragraph to continue explaining their overall background and why they would make a good potential new hire.
- So you can use one or two paragraphs here to convince them you’re worth interviewing.
- Next paragraph: Your willingness to be interviewed and how they can reach you to set one up.
- Last paragraph: Thanking them for considering you and a quick recap of why you feel you’re a good choice to consider for employment.
Chere B. Estrin
A cover letter entices the reader to keep going and review the resume
There are two opinions about the cover letter these days: some read it and others ignore it.
Most candidates believe the cover letter is a summary of their resume. It is not. The purpose is to entice the reader to keep going and review the resume. It shows the employer who shows originality, independent thinking, and has a fresh, intelligent approach.
Its purpose is to show whether this person has:
- conducted research on the company
- can write concisely
- demonstrates your writing ability
Employers read cover letters because they want to know a bit about you without first delving into the resume OR to cause them to want to read the resume. They want to see a writing sample and sometimes the cover letter (if it is not a template), is a very good test.
Candidates are often misled about the purpose of the cover letter. It is not to give a regurgitation of what is in your resume.
Often, cover letters go into great length, and I assure you, those are the cover letters that do not get read in this day and age of Instagram and instant gratification. The purpose is to market your skills in order to entice the reader to want to read the resume.
Those employers that do not read the cover letter are those interested in getting right to the “meat” of the subject without wasting time reading what is already in the resume.
Others have a screening software, called ATS (Applicant Tracking Software) that reads only keywords on the resume. Those employers rarely have use for a cover letter as they are searching for a near-perfect match to the job description.
It is always best to include a cover letter as most companies expect it and leaving it out can show a lack of attention to detail to those employers sold on its purpose.
Director of Career Services, Ama La Vida Coach
A cover letter is your chance to set the tone for the entirety of your candidate process
So many people make the mistake of treating a cover letter as just one more item on a lengthy To-Do list while applying for jobs. It can be true that not including one might be a mark against you, but just treating it as a task that needs to be checked off removes a valuable opportunity for you to make a great impression.
A cover letter is your chance to set the tone for the entirety of your candidate process and to put in context all the other information the company will learn about you. Whether from your resume, subsequent emails, or your interviews, each piece of information will fit into a larger picture of you.
Your first impression is your chance to define what that picture will look like.
This means that your cover letter shouldn’t try to be autobiographical or tremendously deep. Your goal isn’t to tell your entire professional or life story in one document. Rather, think of it like a thesis statement, a title page, or a table of contents – a descriptor of what’s to come, presented enticingly enough to compel someone to dive in more deeply.
That context also serves to connect you to the company, and as such, each one should be personalized. Don’t fall back on “checklist” mentality and include a form letter just to include one. Introduce yourself with a specific reason why you’re doing so for this company. Don’t be afraid to be excited!
A cover letter is a chance to show the human behind the resume, and you don’t have to be dry and robotic.
In fact, you don’t even have to send an actual letter.
Understanding that the purpose of this document is to get some positive attention and interest, why not spice it up a little? I’ve seen job candidates successfully stand out from the crowd by sending a “pitch deck” of a few slides, a relevant sample of past work, or even a live video.
Take a look at the culture of the company you’re interested in.
Are they very buttoned-up and formal? Then a PowerPoint presentation of your past accomplishments can show initiative and confidence. Are they more relaxed and non-standard? Then a video pitch can win their hearts.
Whatever you do, remember that the ultimate point is to stand out.
Applications are not pass or fail – they’re competitive. There’s no such thing as a strict “good enough” threshold. One of the best ways to get a head start in that competition is to set the tone early that you’re the person they’re looking for.
Career Advisor | Co-Founder, Knowlejoble
Cover letters provide context to your job application. Unfortunately, most cover letters are generic and unoriginal. So much so, that in one-third of cases hiring managers won’t read cover letters until after they have decided to interview a candidate.
If written well, the cover letter begins to build a relationship between the applicant and the hiring manager and helps to inform the first stage of the interview process.
A strong cover letter embodies your personality
Resumes are great tools to document skills and experience, but they don’t tell you much about a person’s culture and personality fit. The cover letter is your opportunity to introduce yourself from a holistic human perspective – not just from the context of your career.
Great cover letters provide information on your values, career goals, personality, work environment preferences, and types of teams you like to work with. Infuse some personality into your writing by balancing the formal aspects with a more personal tone of voice.
Write your cover letter to help the manager decide if their open position is going to be a fit for the type of role that will help you thrive. Employers don’t want to waste their time by interviewing people with technical skills but that won’t fit with their team, so help them understand more about your work style and goals through your cover letter.
A cover letter tells the employer what you would like to get out of the position
Employers want to know that you are not just applying to jobs for the money. Of course, your career provides financial gain, but it should also align with your larger goals and vision for your life.
Too many times, I read cover letters that tell me how I will benefit from hiring you… but I want to know what benefit you will get from the job.
Here are some examples of benefits you may receive from a position:
- Exposure to a new industry (or an industry you care a lot about).
- Development of new skills.
- Opportunity to work under a specific leadership style.
- Specific work schedules that they are offering
- Potential to grow leadership skills.
By including these details in a cover letter you show that you have researched the company, position, and the people who work there. It demonstrates dedication and buy-in which is received very well by hiring managers.
It will pique their interest and provides a jump-off point for a conversation during the interview stage.
VP Strategy & Coaching Services, Intoo USA
The main purpose of a cover letter is to show the hiring manager how you’ll add value to the organization
To do this, you need to identify their needs and use your letter to address solutions. Admittedly, cover letters aren’t always read, but you don’t want to risk missing the opportunity to share your excitement about the opportunity and a more personalized glimpse of you as a candidate.
By answering the following three questions, you’ll give the hiring manager an understanding of how you meet and exceed the specific requirements of the position and show your preparedness and interest by demonstrating your knowledge of the company and industry.
- Why am I interested in and a good fit for the organization? Do you follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and love their brand? Have you heard what an amazing culture they have? Be specific about what draws you to the company.
- How are my qualifications well-matched for the position? Highlight your most relevant 2 or 3 qualifications that make them want to really dive into your resume.
- What should be the next step in pursuing an interview? Reiterate your interest and excitement in the organization and role, opportunity to discuss their needs and your qualifications in more depth, and best way to reach you (phone and/or email) for further discussion.
Personalized cover letters are a great opportunity to note your achievements and how they relate to the work you would be doing for this company.
By sharing relevant skills and experience that have helped other organizations solve their problems, you are telling a story about how you might help this company succeed, as well.
Chief Human Resources Officer, Resume.io
A cover letter provides insight into your personal and professional essence
What a cover letter is not:
I think it is useful to first emphasize that a cover letter should never be simply a restating or rehashing of your resume. I don’t enjoy reading a cover letter and then opening a person’s CV to find the same information, only in point form.
What a cover letter is meant to accomplish:
The aim of a cover letter should be to communicate intention, briefly summarize relevant role-related experience without going into the minutiae (your resume does that) and highlight your personality and organizational fit.
A lot of times hiring managers will pass over a qualified and competent candidate simply because they know this person will not be a good fit culturally at the organization.
A good cover letter, therefore, should be based on prior research and an understanding of the organizational culture you are hoping to become a part of.
In short, the purpose of your cover letter is to provide insight into your personal and professional essence to whoever will be reading it. If you present yourself as an interesting, experienced person who will be a good fit for the role, the team, and the organization, I will eagerly read your resume.
Chief Job Search & Branding Strategist, Resume Footprint
Interestingly many people today forgo taking the time to craft a custom cover letter. I believe this is because they can be challenging to write, and they don’t understand the advantages of this personal marketing tool.
There are several purposes/advantages of applying with a cover letter.
- Cover letters often hold key information that resumes do not contain, such as career transition details, relocation logistics, and back to work information.
- In today’s technical world, the first hiring decision-maker is the ATS (applicant tracking system). Individuals who add a tailored cover letter are doubling their chances of getting sent through to the “Yes” pile due to added content consideration.
- As an HR professional and active recruiter, I can confirm that I read every cover letter when sourcing candidates. I respect that they took the time to produce an additional document. A cover letter also tells me a lot about a candidate. If they cared enough to craft a detailed cover letter for an opportunity, they would hopefully care about their job.
- Lastly, when sending your resume, the cover letter content can be used as the email.
General Manager, Lock Search Group
A cover letter is your your biggest shot at standing out in the candidate pool
A cover letter is your first opportunity to introduce yourself to a potential employer and really your biggest shot at standing out in the candidate pool. The ultimate goal is to tell a tailored story that clearly connects how your qualifications and experience align with the company’s expectations and culture.
Whereas a resume quantifies your professional achievements, your cover letter highlights your qualitative skills, ambitions, and motivations.
Cover letters can be tricky because you have to pack a lot into one page, so you need to craft at least four paragraphs of only two to three sentences each.
As the purpose of a cover letter is to tell a resonating story, you will need to cover:
- an introduction
- highlights of your qualifications
- connection with company culture
- a closing
You need to be concise and poignant with your words, which is an oft sought-after skill across industries.
First, with the introduction, start off with how you heard about the exact position; do not forget to mention an employee who referred you to the opening. Then point out how your current position and experience offer the necessary skill set to excel.
Next, highlight the qualifications you mentioned by using at least one real-life example. Think closely about how your previous work can directly relate and benefit the position for which you are applying.
For example, you can mention how you identified a problem at work (perhaps sales were dropping), you created a solution (developed a marketing plan to target a new customer group), and your solution provided results (sales grew x% over a period of time). This is the area in which to expand upon a key achievement mentioned in your resume.
Now that you have shown how you will connect in the role, show how you will connect with the company culture. This is where you show you have done your research on the company, and it proves that you have truly crafted a unique letter for this company.
Perhaps you have charitable interests that align with the company’s values or mention how your career aspirations (offering innovative products for consumers) can help the company achieve its mission.
Lastly, thank the reader for taking the time to read your letter and offer methods of how to contact you. Restate your interest in the company and the position, and say you look forward to hearing back from them.
Executive Recruiter | President, Clay Burnett Group
A purposefully written cover letter can get your foot in the door and a chance to be considered for the position you are seeking.
Think of it as a magnifying glass providing a spotlight on your abilities to do the job.
First of all, read the job description very carefully to understand what the employer really, really wants. If you are working with a recruiter they can help you understand and define the needs outlined in the job description.
Listen to them and take their advice. If you are on your own, take some time to think through the job description and see the job through the employer’s eyes.
Next, look at your resume. What do you have that they want? This is where you compose your sales pitch.
Not everything on your resume will be of equal interest. Your skills and experience are unique to you and it’s important that you select the most relevant elements of your resume to summarize in your cover letter.
Remember that it is much harder to be concise than long-winded and the person reading your cover has little time and no inclination to plow through a long paragraph.
Compose your letter so that it is quick to read and easy to understand. That will make you stand out.
Michael Trust, MPA, SPHR, PHRca, SHRM-SCP
Human Resources Leader & Certified Mediator, Michael Trust Consulting
A cover letter’s purpose is to showcase and highlight certain experiences, education, accomplishments that are on the resume that might be lost.
It’s also a way to express why there is interest in the position. It should be generally short (unless you have a great deal of experience and a great deal to highlight); it’s part of a marketing document (the resume is the rest), and it should be written that way.
This is not the place to be humble; it’s not the place to be arrogant, either. It’s a fine line.
This document must be well written and be error-free. If a good job is done, it will actually set you up to answer many challenging interview questions because you’ve already briefly discussed achievements in your cover letter.
The cover letter doesn’t replace the resume, nor should it regurgitate what’s in the resume. Just highlight. It’s really that simple.
CEO, Rob Barnett Media
I don’t know why most cover letters sound like they were written ages ago by a boring character in a black and white movie or by a robot with no personality.
Don’t bother sending covers to “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Whom It May Concern.”
Take the time to find out exactly who the hiring manager is and address them directly. When you write a cover letter, you should sound exactly like you’re speaking to your new boss, directly – like a human being.
I don’t know why everyone thinks a cover letter should be a dull, lifeless, overly formal snoozer.
Drop the typical blah blah about how you’re “excited to apply for the position.” And don’t write any company without doing your homework on the business to add nutritious content on why the mission and work line up with your expertise.
The purpose of the cover letter is not to copy everything that’s already attached to your resume
Keep your recent and relevant history brief, then do the most important thing most candidates miss. Include an understanding of their needs with specific ideas about how you can bring value. If you’ve got something positive and complimentary to add – do it. Just don’t suck up.
You’ve got one job. The primary goal of your cover letter is to earn an interview. Ask for “a brief introductory call in the weeks ahead.” This sign of patience shows confidence and professionalism that will go much farther than any hint of desperation.
One last thing, if you’ve got any direct connection to the boss or a current employee, you should definitely contact that person in advance of writing the letter to get the best inside intel possible. Then name drop that professional connection with the hope they vouch for you, like in The Sopranos. Happy Writing.
Founder and CEO, The Hire Talent
A cover letter mirrors your first impression
Your first impression is the cover letter, where you introduce yourself as more than just another candidate, but as the candidate that will be the best fit for the role.
Be sure to include any advantageous, pertinent information that could help you stand out from the herd. If you fear any bias going into the interviews, this can sometimes be a way to quell that issue.
As hiring managers get savvier and use more technology to ‘weed’ out bad hires using assessments, this may be a good way to get to the first interview, be yourself, tout your accomplishments and be transparent.
Dr. Laurence J. Stybel
Psychologist | Founder, Stybel Peabody
A cover letter is the justification why your candidacy should be taken seriously
Think of your resume as an appendix to your letter. Think of your letter as the justification why your candidacy should be taken seriously.
A good cover letter should include evidence:
- That you have taken the time to conduct some research about the company/industry sector
- An explicit statement linking one critical stated needs to a specific accomplishment in your resume
- Statement welcoming next steps in the hiring process
Warning: If you ever write “I would be perfect for this job” based on the job content outlined in the advertisement, I won’t even consider talking with you.
It tells me that you assume the job description accurately reflects the job itself. That’s naive. On the other hand, you should conclude your letter with, “I believe there is mutual value in us exploring this opportunity in more depth.”
Director of Operations, MyCorporation.com
A cover letter is a way of sharing career backstory with HR
Why are they applying for this job? What makes them the ideal hire for the role? What kinds of experience can they bring to the company to help it grow and thrive?
A cover letter provides candidates the space to answer all of these questions (and then some) and to make an incredible first impression on the business. The passion and sincerity shine through in a cover letter.
Employers want to hire great talent that cares about doing a fantastic job. A thoroughly written cover letter better positions the candidate to be potentially hired as an employee.
Founder and CEO, Looka
A cover letter is the “why”
If your resume is all about explaining “what” you’ve done, your cover letter is about explaining “why”.
One of the reasons cover letters are often ineffective is that people use them as a way to reiterate what they’ve already said in their resume. They take their resume’s content and expand on it, emphasizing just how much their resume bullet points match up with the bullet points from the description of the job they’re applying for.
But to get the most out of a cover letter—both for employers and prospective employees—you need to go beyond the bullet points.
Explaining how this role fits into the trajectory of your career, what it means for your professional development, how the company’s mission aligns with your own—this is the kind of content that elevates a cover letter.
By delving into the “why” behind your work, you give employers a glimpse into the person they’d be working with. Not just whether or not you can do the work, but why you actually want to.
Managing Director, Group 4 Holdings Limited
A cover letter reveals the ‘story’ behind an applicant’s career and job application
The importance of a cover letter is very often overlooked when candidates make job applications. From someone who used to work in the HR Department and go through hundreds of applications a week, the aforementioned statement could not be further from the truth.
Although I now work in an Executive Position in a global conglomerate, I often give more importance to Cover Letters compared to the actual CVs when I have been given a shortlist of applicants to select for interviews.
CVs provide a good in-depth understanding of a candidate’s experience, education, and general development over the span of their careers. All employers want to know where you have worked and where you have been educated.
However, now more than ever, CVs are often quite boring and mundane – which is expected considering how much importance is given to adhering to standard structures and sticking by industry guidelines when creating and formatting one’s Curriculum Vitae.
Although plenty of career academies and HR coaches would recommend also keeping Cover Letters ’standard and professional’, I would advise candidates not to make this common mistake.
Yes, as employers we want to know why you are applying for the job and making sure you haven’t just created one cover letter for all applications, but this is often discovered in the first round of screening.
When we receive shortlisted applications for the second round of screening or interview selection, we already know candidates have experience in the relevant fields, since this has been identified by the HR Department.
At this stage, Management will often spend more time reading the Cover Letter, trying to really understand the candidate and the ‘story’ behind their career and job application.
Unique details about why you are perfectly suited for the position, what makes you different, and your passion for the field really stand out.
Furthermore, always make sure you do not give the impression that your Cover Letter is a ‘one-for-all’ that has been used for multiple applications. Talk about why you are interested in working not only in the field you have applied for but for that employer in particular.
Try to find common similarities between your interests, goals, and achievements and your potential Employer’s company mission statements and corporate ethos.
In summary, ticking all the standard boxes of the Cover Letter are important and should not be overlooked. They are all excellent ways to show you are suitable for the job, however, to go that one step further you need to show a level of personalization about why you are an ideal candidate, and perfect for the company.
This is where you stand out, by avoiding general and vague statements and giving personalized and real-life examples that really make your Employer think that you have made an effort to show how you are different.
Remember that you are your own brand – never undersell what makes you different or unique.
Co-Founder and CEO, GR0
A cover letter shows personality while revealing the passion of the candidate
I’ve hired over 100 people in my role as CEO of GR0. These roles included account managers, marketing professionals, social media managers, SEO specialists, copywriters, and more. I’ve read hundreds of cover letters over the years.
Traditional cover letters are 100% still relevant and not only that, they are the most important part of the equation. They show personality and personalization while revealing the passion of the candidate to the employer.
This gives a pulse for how much the candidate cares. Cover letters are seen as optional by candidates so those that actually take the time to do them and do them well certainly stand out from the pack.
The most important piece of advice I would give, particularly to a recent college graduate, is to talk about personal projects and entrepreneurial activities.
This demonstrates scrappiness, initiative, and the types of traits that are incredibly valued by employers. This separates a candidate from the rest of the bunch because they can speak to real-life examples of their work and how they have applied their passions in real life. The employer can then deduce how the candidate will take that same vigor and apply it to their business.
Sometimes, seeking the first job, people tend to neglect the role of a cover letter, however, it’s an essential part of the recruitment process, as it reveals a lot of applicant’s soft skills and interest in your vacancy.
Reading a cover letter it’s even more important than the CV. Metaphorically speaking, a cover letter is the boarding pass for successful recruitment.
The main task of a cover letter is to motivate a potential employer to consider your resume.
As a person who makes a final decision during the selection, the cover letter can tell me a lot about people who wrote it starting with assessing the skill of self-presentation to demonstrating their values and match them against the values of my company to see whether we can work well if a hire happens.
I can see how well a person researched my business on the internet to show they are not just interested in getting the position, but that they are really determined to get a job in your company.
These are the nuances that help me to filter out the candidates that will not be a good fit for my company saving out time for both parties.