Cover letters seem to be a leftover tradition of a time before the internet. From a period when the only way to apply for a job was mailing in your resume and crossing your fingers that it didn’t get lost. Now you are expected to apply online and have a multitude of social media accounts to show employers exactly who you are. Writing a great cover letter is hard, and a lot of people don’t take the time to do it (at least not well).
But writing a cover letter can be the difference between getting your dream job and not getting a callback. A cover letter shows them that you are hungry for the job they are offering – not just spamming your resume to anyone in the hopes of finding work. It’s a chance to let them know you have the skills they need and if you don’t, selling them on the reasons they should take a chance on you. It takes time and effort to write a cover letter and if you follow a few guidelines, it can give you a leg up on the competition and make the process a little less painful.
Formatting is Vital
It’s called a cover letter for a reason, so treat it as such. Stay away from short blurbs that don’t tell the employer anything about you or your skills, or even worse – just leave it at, “Please see resume.” This is your chance to tell them you are the person they are looking for and expand on why. You should write like you are introducing yourself for the first time, every time.
Start with your contact information and always include a salutation (greeting) and valediction (closing). Don’t fret if you can’t find the name of the person handling their resumes, using generic writing is perfectly fine if you use the right tone. For example, if the first thing they see is, “What’s Up?!” when you are applying for a senior position, you’ll get passed over quickly.
The Body Should Have Substance
The body of your letter needs to have multiple paragraphs to ensure you cover all the information you want to get across. A quick note just isn’t enough – the body is your message, so be sure there’s enough for the employer to get a sense of who you are. You should always include introductory, main, and final paragraphs at a bare minimum.
The introductory paragraph tells the employer who you are and what position you’re applying for. You can include why the position is a perfect fit for you and how your goals align with the company’s aspirations.
The main paragraph should include any skills specific to the job you are applying for and what you could bring to the company if you were offered the position. Any special projects you’ve done that pertain to the job description or any points you want to expand on should be included here.
And of course, always end with a final paragraph – your conclusion. This doesn’t have to be a massive thank you note but do make sure to let them know you appreciate their time and how hopeful you are to hear from them. You can include links to your LinkedIn or Github profiles here, so if they are interested in you, they know where to look.
Getting the Details Right
The information you include in your cover letter can help you get an interview, but it can also send your resume straight to the “do not call” pile. If you include the details you learned while researching the company and from the job description, it will grab the reader’s attention. The same is also true if you’ve made any mistakes or included any misinformation.
If you’re applying for a position that’s titled “AWS Tech Lead” and you say you are the perfect fit for the “AWS Engineer Position” – you will get disqualified in an instant. The same applies to the skills or experience you want to showcase. If they need someone with an AWS CSA certification and you only list being an AWS Certified SysOps Administrator, it won’t get the kind of attention you want. As Hyman Rickover said, “The devil is in the details, but so is salvation.”
Expanding on What’s Important
The cover letter gives you a chance to expand on any important details. This can be key for those just starting out in their chosen career field, moving to a new career path, or who have a gap in their work history.
This is a situation where you need to be honest, but not too honest, about things employers may see as negatives on your resume. If you don’t have the experience they are asking for in the job description, explain why you believe they should take a chance on you anyway. Be confident with your skills and abilities and let them know the reasons you are the perfect fit for the job. You still want to be humble about things you may be lacking, but don’t present them in a negative light.
Are you a stay-at-home parent trying to get back into the workplace with your new certifications? Use those experiences as a positive and showcase the patience, determination, and time management it took for you to get where you are now. Tell them the story about where you came from and how the things you went through makes you the right fit to drive their future.
Always include a cover letter unless the job posting specifically says otherwise. In the future, the cover letter may fall victim to the rise of technology and online applications, but for now, it’s a tradition that still holds steady. Writing a great cover letter may seem like a chore, but in the end, it could be the difference between you getting the interview or getting looked over.