You’re only a few steps away from snagging your dream job. You know- The one with unlimited PTO, a ping pong table, free snacks in the cafeteria, and a 10% annual bonus. You have already crafted a winning resume, but you can’t forget about your resume’s partner in crime- the cover letter.
But wait- You are probably wondering…
Is it Necessary to Write a Cover Letter?
The answer is yes and no. It really depends on your profession and the company you are applying for.
If you are in a customer facing role, like sales or customer service, a cover letter is important because your qualifications depend more on your personality, rather than tangible capabilities. This makes a cover letter the perfect spot to give a taste of your character and work ethic, as well as to demonstrate that you will fit in perfectly with the company culture.
Likewise, if you are looking for an entry-level position, a cover letter is extremely necessary. Up until now, you have probably had very little (if any) relevant professional experience, so the cover letter is key to giving the hiring manager a taste of your attitude and aptitude, which is really what they will be hiring you off of.
Finally, if you are in a creative position, like a Marking Assistant or Copywriter, a cover letter is essential to giving the hiring manager a sample of your creative flair. Because let’s be honest, resumes can be quite dull, but a cover letter has lots of room for you to add a unique, creative narrative.
On the other hand, a cover letter is not necessary for technical or analytical roles. These would include anyone in information technology, mathematics, data analytics, and the like. For these roles, your tangible, technical skills are what is going to land you a job, not your writing abilities.
A lot of new, hip, ‘Silicon Valley-esque’ companies, like AirBnB, Twitter, and Facebook, require you to submit a cover letter, no matter what type of position you are applying for. So regardless of what I said above, if a job application specifically asks you for a cover letter, you better make sure to write one.
What Should You Say in a Cover Letter?
There are 3 main things hiring managers are looking to get out of your cover letter.
- If you possess the skills and knowledge to perform well in the position: To show them this, write a narrative that summarizes how your past work aligns with the position you are applying for.
- That you would fit in with the company culture: Demonstrate that you are a perfect match by doing some research into the company’s values, mission, and goals and then tying that verbiage into your cover letter.
- That you have career goals and a strong work ethic: Outline your career aspirations, where you would want to move up within the company, and how you plan to get there.
5 Secret Ingredients for a Killer Cover Letter
As a recruiter, I can tell you that 90% of cover letters put hiring managers to sleep. They are boring, dry, and lack any sort of engagement. This means that most hiring managers don’t read more than 3 sentences of a cover letter before they move on to the resume. But it doesn’t have to be this way!
I am going to give you the 5 secret ingredients to writing a killer cover letter that is sure not to put anyone to sleep.
Secret #1: Start with a Story
Those 90% of cover letters that I mentioned typically start with something along the lines of:
“Dear Hiring Manager,
I am writing to express my sincere interest in the newly posted job of Senior Project Manager with the Bank of………”
Sorry. That was me taking a nap.
I have read this cover letter introduction more times that I can count, and it doesn’t get me amped up for what’s on the rest of the page.
To start your cover letter with a bang, begin with an interesting, engaging story that ties back to the position or company you are applying for. For example, let’s pretend you are applying for a position with a pet supply company, we will call them PetSupply Co.
“Growing up with the Atlanta Zoo literally in my backyard, I have always been obsessed with animals. From ages 5 to 12, I begged my parents every year for an annual pass for Christmas and would spend hours staring at the monkeys, elephants, and koala bears (which were my favorite). At that time, my naïve mind thought that being a zoo keeper would be a dream, but I later learned the hard way that working outside in the Georgia heat didn’t agree with me. Nevertheless, my love for animals has never faded, which is why working in an air-conditioned office at PetSupply Co. is made for me.”
Secret #2: Keep Your Formatting Consistent
Since your resume and cover letter are partners in crime, the formatting needs to be consistent. This means the same font, file type, margins, and orientation. Remembering back on our resume formatting basics, here are the guidelines you should follow:
File Type: MS Word or PDF
Font: Times New Roman, 10pt or 11pt, black color
Margins: Narrow or Moderate
That’s right- Don’t even think about attracting attention with funky colors, borders, or graphics. Your cover letter, like your resume, should always be polished, clean, and professional.
But unlike your resume, which might be 1 or 2 pages, your cover letter should never exceed 1 page in length. You aren’t writing a novel about why you are the perfect fit, you are just giving the hiring manager a taste.
Secret #3: Fill in the Gaps Your Resume Doesn’t Cover
Have you worried about hiring managers misunderstanding your employment gaps? Are you nervous that you don’t have one of the required certifications?
Use your cover letter to fill in the background information that is missing on your resume. This is your chance to add a personal touch, and most importantly, to make your application feel human. Don’t be afraid to write that you took two extra years to finish school because you were working two jobs. Or that you took five years off to raise three beautiful children. A hiring manager will always be more interested in someone with an intriguing personal story, rather than in someone that robotically rattles off their qualifications.
Secret #4: Research Who You Are Writing To
This is a huge one! So many people don’t take the time to research who they are addressing the cover letter to. By looking up the specific person who will be reading it, and perhaps even discovering some of their personal interests, you can form a personal connection before you meet in person.
Many job listings will have the title of the role you would be reporting to. For example:
“As a Project Manager, you would report to the Director of the PMO”
“As a Financial Analyst, you will be reporting to the CFO”
If you are lucky enough to have this information in the job posting, take some time to look up who the Director of the PMO or who the CFO is using LinkedIn, the company’s website, or good old Google.
But even if you aren’t directly given the title of your reporting manager, you can most likely figure this information out by using some deductive reasoning. For example, if you know you will be working in a certain department, do some searching on LinkedIn for the manager or director of that company’s department in the city you will be working in.
Once you know who you are addressing the cover letter to, use their name in your greeting in place of ‘Dear Hiring Manager’. For even more bonus points, try to find some personal facts through LinkedIn or Facebook, for example their hobbies or favorite sports team. And if you have similar interests to them, let’s say you both love the Patriots, you can try to gracefully weave a reference to the Patriots into the body of your cover letter.
Secret #5: Use Punchy Wording
My last secret is to use punchy, engaging wording and to avoid overused business clichés. Your verbiage should be warm, friendly, and conversational, while remaining proper and professional.
Make sure you are enthusiastic and show your excitement for the job. This includes writing as if you are already in the role, such as:
“As a Cashier for PetSupply Co, I will make every customer (and pet) walk away with a smile on their face.”
Don’t use terminology that weakens your position, such as “somewhat experienced” or “fairly knowledgeable”.
If you are having trouble coming up with engaging wording, once you are done with the first draft, go through and highlight the lackluster verbiage. Then go to PowerThesaurus.com and find something snazzy to put in its place.
How to Submit Your Cover Letter
Nice job! Now you have the secrets to craft a killer cover letter. Make sure to save your 1-page cover letter as a separate document from your resume. When you submit your cover letter and resume, submit them as two separate documents, but always in the same file format (either Word or PDF).
And before you submit, go through and edit the company name for wherever you are applying to. There is nothing more sad, or embarrassing, than someone applying to Pizza Hut with a cover letter that reads “Dear Hiring Manager of Papa Johns.”