The ability to write a good cover letter is a critical job search skill you’ll need to master if you want to become a top tier candidate.
Not too worried about your cover letters? You should be. These days, employers are paying extra close attention to the quality of applicants’ cover letters and using them as a way to gauge professionalism, writing ability and attention to detail.
Every resume you submit should be accompanied by a cover letter that has been tailored to the employer and position – even if you are submitting your resume electronically. The best cover letters are concise (no more than one page) and exhibit several important characteristics, all of which confirm the information contained in your resume and reinforce your qualifications as a solid candidate for the job.
- Specificity. Generic cover letters are a big mistake in today’s job market. The words, “To Whom It May Concern” should never appear in your cover letters or for that matter, any of your job search materials. Identify the appropriate recipient for your resume and address your cover letter specifically to the decision-maker or hiring representative (e.g. Mr. Michael Scott, Regional Manager, Dunder Mifflin, Scranton, PA). Also, be sure to include how you heard about the position (e.g. referred by a contact) and other specifics.
- Personality. Although it’s important to incorporate your personality into your cover, your personality shouldn’t overwhelm your cover letter’s purpose or content. Personal opinions, rambling diatribes and quirky colloquialisms have no place in professional job search materials. Draft your cover letter to communicate aspects of your personality, but keep in mind that you will be judged by the words and sentences you create.
- Structure. Like resumes, cover letters have a certain structure that needs to be followed. Good cover letters adhere to standard formatting requirements, several short paragraphs in the main body (rather than a single long paragraph) and other structural elements that show you have invested the time and effort it takes to create a high quality document.
- Focus. The primary purpose of a cover letter is to highlight your job qualifications. But surprisingly, many job applicants approach the cover letter as an opportunity to ramble endlessly about their personal opinions or to describe skills that aren’t directly related to the position. So although your fluency in Swahili may be an interesting personal fact, it should only be included in your cover if the job requires competencies in East African language or culture.