I get a lot of questions from clients about whether or not they should include a cover letter when sending in their résumé. My response is “Would you consider making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich without the jelly?” The point being that the two go hand-in-hand, and unless a job position announcement specifically states that you should not send in a cover letter along with your résumé, you should ALWAYS include one.
There are multiple reasons. As more companies are using applicant tracking software to scan for job keywords, the cover letter also can get fed into this system as well. Building up your hit ratio in this system is paramount to catapulting you into the next level of the screening process.
Additionally, the cover letter serves as the compelling reason as to why the employer should hire you- it’s your opportunity to make the case as to why you are a superior candidate over other applicants. The résumé presents your value proposition in terms of facts. The cover letter can provide the softer skill side where you can talk about your drive, initiative, attention to detail and how you are willing to go the extra mile.
But actually writing a cover letter can be deceptively easy, and many people get trapped writing the wrong thing. Many people fail in this activity because they simply end up focusing entirely on themselves. The truth is that in a cover letter, while it is about you, it’s actually really about THEM (the employer).
Here are a couple of straightforward tricks to use when developing an effective cover letter that addresses an employer’s needs:
1) Personalize your letter. Don’t know the human resource manager? Use your network or look them up on LinkedIn.com. A personalized cover letter always gets more attention than a ‘Dear Human Resource Manager’ or ‘To Whom it May Concern’ type of letter.
2) Always include a reference to the specific position you are applying for in the cover letter. Here’s an example of the format:
Contact Name, Title
City, State, Zip
Re: Position Title and Reference Number (if applicable)
3) Create immediate interest. Use a compelling ‘hook’ to spur the employer to read on. You can relate to something that is of interest to the employer by making a direct appeal or providing an interesting fact relevant to that company. The key is to make a connection to what is of interest to THEM!
4) Write to your audience. Demonstrate familiarity and knowledge about their company… this can stroke their ego while at the same time subliminally demonstrating your resourcefulness by digging up information about their company. Find out what types of challenges that your target company might be facing, and then provide yourself as the solution to those problems. Advertisers use this ‘problem-solution’ tactic all the time!
5) Talk about what you can do for the employer. Focus on the target company, versus rattling off a litany of ‘I’ve done this, and I’ve done that…now hire me!” It doesn’t work that way. You should be into your third paragraph in the cover letter before you start touting yourself, and even at that point, you need to relate specifically what you offer to what they need. Avoid a lot of ‘I’ or ‘my’ statements!
6) Use keywords in your cover letter like you do in your résumé. These can generate hits and adds to the employer’s perception of your relevancy.
7) Don’t forget to close the sale. Most people, whether in their cover letter or at the end of an interview, forget to ask for the sale. You are selling your services to help their company, and your close in a cover letter is just as important as your opening. Don’t be afraid to ask them to hire you!
8) Avoid ‘regurgitating’ your résumé in your cover letter. Remember, the résumé are the facts, and the cover letter is how you make the case as to why they should hire you!
Hopefully, these tips will help you understand that the cover letter is practically equal with the résumé… they go together and act as compliments to provide a tight, focused and informative snapshot about what you offer the employer.