by Lou H, CPRW, Certified Resume Writer -
For the sophisticated and committed job seeker, a cover letter has always been a staple when applying for a new position. A cover letter presents a brief summary of a candidate’s expertise as it applies to the targeted job and provides the opportunity to explain difficult subjects such as layoffs and employment gaps, all while giving insight into an individual’s personality. Imagine a prospective employer receiving over 500 responses to a job advertisement with many of the candidates having similar backgrounds. An effective cover letter differentiates you from the crowd, grabbing the attention of hiring managers and encouraging them to want to learn more about you.
Cover Letters Can Go Beyond a Resume
Beth Braccio Hering with CareerBuilder wrote an article titled, “Do You Really Need a Cover Letter.” She asked, “…in this age of online applications and recruiters who need to scan material quickly, is this practice (providing a cover letter) outdated?”
Experts, including Pennell Locey with Keystone Associates, a career management consulting firm, strongly encourage candidates to send a cover letter along with their resume. Locey stated, “In a cover letter, you can precisely match your qualifications to job requirements and/or to the company to a degree that is difficult on a resume.”
Locey is correct. One of the best cover letter formats is the T-style. The body of the letter has two columns. The column on the left is what the position requires. The column on the right is the candidate’s skills as they pertain to the job responsibilities. This format is visually arresting and provides, at a glance, how well a candidate fits a position. No resume can do that.
For Those with Less than Perfect Backgrounds
None of us has a flawless employment history. However, some do have lengthy employment gaps and numerous layoffs. These aren’t easily addressed in a resume. However, in a cover letter a candidate can explain that the company was downsized because of economic conditions, or jobs were outsourced. It wasn’t that the employee didn’t perform in a stellar manner. Circumstances were simply beyond his or her control.
Although cover letters are important, the quality of the content and presentation are equally critical. Some points to keep in mind include:
Keep It Short
Letters that are too long typically won’t be read. One page is sufficient. Stay on point with the job you’re targeting and how you can succeed in it. Never begin with a negative such as, “Although I know I don’t have the background for this position…” If you don’t have the background, then don’t bother applying. You won’t be called in for an interview.
Personalize, Personalize, Personalize
A letter addressed to “Dear Sir or Madam” or worse “To Whom It May Concern” might as well be addressed to “Dear Occupant.” Go the extra mile to identify the individual responsible for hiring. A Google search may do the trick. If not, call the company and ask for the individual’s name.
Highlight Your Strengths
The article specifies critical information for an effective cover letter such as length and tone, what to include in an introductory paragraph, and how to incorporate your qualifications. Whenever possible, you should showcase your significant contributions while also matching them to the new position requirements. Dovetail your skills, knowledge, and abilities to what an employer needs. Most candidates don’t, which will put you far ahead of the rest.
Our ResumeEdge certified writers have decades of experience, specialize in 40+ industries, and know the importance of a cover letter. We have helped tens of thousands of job seekers reach their career goals. In addition to cover letters, we also provide resume writing, resume editing, LinkedIn® profiles, and interview coaching through our JobInterviewEdge service. Get matched with one of our experts who have real world experience in your field.