Do people even read cover letters anymore? Can’t they get it all from my resume? What do I put on a cover letter anyway? These are the typical questions I get asked a lot from job applicants with multiple backgrounds. And these days, with so many job applicants out there, people are wondering if cover letters would even add an extra burden of reading to already overwhelmed recruiters.
The reality is that the fact that there are so many job applicants out there is the main reason why you do need a cover letter. The purpose of a cover letter is to distinguish yourself from all those other applicants. Will the resume be enough to serve this purpose? Maybe, if you have a really good resume. But what if you and several other candidates are equally qualified? That’s when hiring managers put your qualifications aside and go by other factors such as your motivation for applying. That’s what cover letters are for.
Does everyone read cover letters every time? Probably not. But if they do like what they see on your resume, most likely they would want to read what you have to say about yourself and why you want the job. One of the biggest reasons people skip reading cover letters is because most applicants don’t know how to write them. People focus too much on trying to sound good, and in the process lose the reader. Too many cover letters are boring, methodical, scripted and talk so much about how great the candidate is. This actually makes them sound a bit phony.
Let me share a few tips on how to write an effective cover letter:
Start by talking about them.
Too many cover letters start the same way – “I’d like to apply for the (fill in the blank) position…” or “I’m interested in… role” or “It is with great enthusiasm I am applying for…” Are you really that enthusiastic? Or are you just saying this because you don’t know what else to say? Instead, why don’t you tell them why you are excited and interested.
What every employer wants to know is why did you choose to apply to them for a job. Did you actually research their company and get inspired by what you found? Or are you simply looking for a job and they just happened to have an opening? Nobody wants to hire a jobseeker.
If you take the time to learn about the employer and demonstrate it in your cover letter, you will win. The key is to grab their attention from the very beginning, so they get an idea that your cover letter is different. If your letter is intriguing enough, they will be more likely to keep on reading.
Let them know you got them.
This is probably one of the biggest and most important points of even having a cover letter. It is one of the reasons why cover letters are often called “pain letters.” It is not because they are a pain to write, although that can also be true ????. You need to demonstrate it to them that you really get what their challenges (or pain points) are, and what makes you the right person to solve those challenges.
Again, it’s not about how good you are in general, but rather how good of a fit you are for the job. Their biggest question is what you can do for them. If you address that question from the beginning, you are on the right track.
Most people have a short attention span when it comes to reading documents and letters. When they see letters, messages or emails that are too long, they typically don’t read them. Besides, when they have tons of other applicants to review, they can get easily overwhelmed.
Once you have gotten their attention, keep your letter short and simple. Get to the point. Use short sentences when you can. Don’t use too many fancy words, it is not about trying to impress them with your language skills. Instead, make it impactful and meaningful.
Have a call to action at the end
Some cover letters I see simply end with “Thank you for your time and consideration,” assuming the hiring manager knows what to do and will contact you if they feel like it. They do. But it has been proven to be much more effective to invite them for an interview in your last paragraph of the cover letter. People respond to an invitation; it shows you are proactive and interested.
In summary, a cover letter can help set you off from other equally qualified candidates. Start the letter off by talking about them, make it clear that you understand their pain points and that you are the right person to solve their challenges, keep it concise, and end with an invitation to talk more. Follow this advice and you will have a cover letter than will grab the hiring manager’s attention and make it clear that you are the candidate they want to hire.
Katherine Bouglai is a career transition coach and the founder of Blossom Career. She works with professionals in technology who have recently lost their jobs and are looking for successful career transition. Her specialties include career change, resume development, job search strategies, job interview preparations, offer negotiations and other related skills.