I am often asked this question. It is so much easier to just send a resume. Is it really important to write a customized cover letter? Yes, if you hope to be invited for an interview. If you don’t want the job, don’t bother but then why even send your resume? If you are interested in the job, a cover letter is a critical component. The cover letter may well be your opportunity to stand out from the mountain of online applications.
Why is the cover letter so important? This is your opportunity to connect the dots for the hiring manager. You read a job description and said “this is good job for me because…” You need to make those connections obvious to the employer. What do they gain by hiring you? Focus on your relevant experience and transferable skills. Differentiate yourself in the process with a strong cover letter.
How professional should it be? It should be a business letter, your name and address on the top in the same format as your resume, date, address block, salutation prior to the body of the letter. Demonstrate your professional writing skills in your cover letter. It should never be more than a single page. Sincerely is the acceptable close, never fondly or other approaches. Use “Dear Mr. Smith” not “Dear Joe”, or “Dear Joe Smith”. Your letter should contain an introduction, body and then a strong close. Do not just summarize your resume. Do not over use the word “I” and be careful not to start most sentences or paragraphs with “I”. Focus on the needs of the company.
What are some of the current trends in cover letters? An alarming trend is the number of candidates who do not bother to write a letter, this tells the employer it wasn’t worth the applicant’s time and effort. Many applicants focus their cover letters on what they want and need when the focus should be on how you can address the needs of the employer. Many applicants over use the word “I” in their letters. Do not start every paragraph with “I” and do not start every sentence with “I”. Do your first draft and then go back and eliminate half the “I”’s by restructuring the sentences. Your letter serves as a professional writing sample so demonstrate strong grammar, proper structure, correct spelling etc. Lack of attention to these details is a quick route to the no pile.
Does it have to be customized if my resume stays the same? Yes! You need to customize every letter to the specific needs of the company and the specific requirements of the position. Show them why you are a strong candidate for this job. Most hiring managers can spot a template letter and it will quickly move it to the “no” pile.
Do not use a template and Beware of cut and paste – Most hiring managers can spot a template letter very quickly and then move it to the no pile just as quickly. Generic language and no focus on the specific job tell the employer you were not interested enough to prepare a customized letter. Even if you think you are being careful cutting and pasting into a template for minimal customization, errors occur much too frequently. Employers lose interest very quickly when your letter refers to the wrong company or position. You can talk about your attention to detail all day but if you make these types of errors in your cover letter no one will believe you. Demonstrate your skills and your interest with your letter.
A strong customized cover letter increases the chances that you will be invited for an interview while a poor letter earns you a quick trip to the no pile.