Applying for a job online or via email – your cover letter is your first “make or break” contact. If the cover letter is sloppy or weak, your resume may never see the light of day. While some job postings do not allow or ask for a cover letter, the majority still do. Here are some tips for what to say in your cover letter and how to make it as effective as possible.
Start with the basics
– name, address, date, recipient name/title and address (just recipient name/title if you are sending via email). Next, open with an introduction - ideally, Dear Mr./Ms./Director/Manager (NAME or TITLE, avoid “to whom it may concern”). Be resourceful and try to find the name of the hiring manager or HR recruiter if a specific name isn’t given. This should be followed by a sentence stating the job you are applying for and your eagerness to be considered. If you were referred by someone in your network, be sure to mention the connection. If you are answering an open job posting, you might add something about your knowledge of the organization (because, of course, you have done your research about the company and know it’s the right place for you).
The second paragraph
should be a brief (3-4 sentences or bullets) overview of your relevant background. Include key achievements and skills that show how you can bring value to the company and be successful in the position. Pay attention to some of the key words in the job description and – without copying the language verbatim - include some in the body of your cover letter. This will help get your cover letter through any applicant tracking system the company might be using to winnow through resumes. That also means that EACH AND EVERY cover letter should be different! Take the time to make your cover letters job-specific, do not just use the same letter for each application.
Your third and final paragraph
should recap the reasons why you are applying for the role and why you would be a great fit. Do not just restate a bullet point from your resume – be thoughtful and creative. Keep the letter brief (most cover letters should be ½ - ¾ of a page) and include an enthusiastic statement that says you look forward to hearing from the employer and will also follow up for next steps.
Don’t forget the
final salutation and signature.
If you are attaching a cover letter to an email, make sure it has the same look/format and fonts as your resume. Be consistent. And finally – reread the letter before you send it. The last thing you need is a cover letter with a typo being your first introduction to the company!
- John Strauss, CRC Board Member