Some job posts explicitly request that applicants submit a cover letter along with a resume. Some don’t. Some hiring managers read cover letters carefully. Some simply move past them and focus more attention on resumes, work samples, and portfolios. But just like any other aspect of a job application, the cover letter provides a job applicant with a golden opportunity—an opportunity to showcase the credentials and personality traits a hiring manager might not see otherwise. So as you scan job boards and apply for work, make the most of your cover letter by following these simple tips.
1. Include one. Always. Some job posts and online application systems state that cover letters are optional, but never submit a resume or portfolio without one. Every picture looks better when it’s presented in a frame, and every formal document looks better when it’s accompanied by an introductory letter explaining what it’s about and where it’s from.
2. Keep it short. A high impact cover letter should not exceed one page. If you find yourself agonizing over the details of your letter and afraid to make deep cuts, don’t worry. Just find ways to summarize the details of your background and condense as much as possible. And get rid of space-hogging filler words and empty descriptors that don’t pull their weight.
3. Tailor your statements and tone to your specific reader. Before you write, think carefully about the person who will be reviewing your letter. Do you and this person share any mutual connections or common experiences? What is she probably looking for in a candidate? Review the post carefully and visit the company’s website to glean every bit of data you can find before you sit down to write the first sentence.
4. Don’t recap. A cover letter isn’t the place to offer a chapter-by-chapter summary of your entire work history. Save the lists and bullet points for your resume, and keep your letter focused on presenting a three dimensional picture of who you are, what you want, and what you have to offer.
5. Make the first few lines count. In a tough job market, second chances are hard to find, and if you lose your readers in the first paragraph it may not be easy to get them back. Make sure your first three sentences contain your entire message, including a mention of what you can bring to this job that no other candidate can.
For more information on creating an effective cover letter, and for additional editing tips and general job search help, make an appointment with the MA staffing and career management experts at Techneeds.