Question: When does a job interview begin? The answer isn’t “with the handshake,” or “when you arrive at reception.” The interview process begins the second a recruiter or hiring manager receives their first piece of correspondence from you.
The cover letter is the first test, and if you haven’t prepared one, you’re already blowing it.
In almost all cases, the first thing they see is your cover letter.
The cover letter is the first test, and if you haven’t taken the time to prepare one that’s tight, compelling, and good at selling your skills, you’re already blowing it. It’s time to stop worrying about how to write an effective cover letter and start doing it.
Why Your Cover Letter Still Matters
“No one does cover letters anymore.” A very qualified and otherwise very intelligent job seeker said this to us recently. We asked if he was sending out resumes, and he said he was.
When we asked what he was putting in the body of his emails, can you guess what he said? “See attached.” We wish we were joking; but we’re not.
Cover letters may have changed, but they haven’t gone extinct. We no longer print them out on ivory-colored card stock and slide them gingerly into envelopes. These days, we generally paste them into the body of an email. But just because the medium is less formal doesn’t mean that the occasion itself is, too. This is your first chance to make a good impression on a recruiter or prospective employer, and that makes it a test in itself. At the very minimum, they’re evaluating you to see if you can write well. They’re also gauging how much effort you put into it. A sloppy, poorly written cover letter that’s littered with typos or bad grammar indicates that you’re not serious about the job you’re applying for or are just too arrogant or entitled to be bothered.
To do a cover letter well, you’ll need to do a little research on each job you apply for. But hey, you’re already doing that anyway. Right?
What Your Cover Letter Should Contain
A cover letter doesn’t need to be long to be effective. It only needs to state your value in a succinct, compelling fashion. On the most basic level, the cover letter should be a teaser for your resume. It’s marketing, pure and simple.
Take a look at this one, There are three primary components of a cover letter, and this one does them all very well.
This example doesn’t beat around the bush. Our job seeker gets right to the point by describing his unique value prop and why the business in question needs it. To do this well, research the business’ needs before applying. Google them. Read their internal blog. Find out where their problems lie. Then speak directly to that right out of the gate. This may be somewhat time consuming for each gig, but an internal recruiter will rejoice when she finally gets a cover letter that addresses the business’ needs, rather than just another version of “hire me please.”
Evaluate the bullets you crafted during your resume how-to, select the ones most relevant to the company’s needs, and insert some here. Don’t worry about reusing that information; you’re only showing a few, and there’s no harm in making sure the reader sees them more than once. However, tweak them a bit to make them seem as applicable as possible to the company in question.
Ask for the interview. Every time. It’s not tacky and it’s not gauche, as long as you’re not pushy, arrogant, or rude. There’s a reason that you’re sending this cover letter and the reader knows this. Some good examples are: “I would welcome a personal interview” or “I look forward to the opportunity to discuss my qualifications further.”
A note on formatting: when you’re inserting your cover letter into an email, your formatting opportunities are limited. However, you should always attach a formal copy of the cover letter as a .doc (not .docx — some people’s machines still aren’t compatible) along with your resume. When doing so, be sure that the two documents look like a cohesive package by keeping formatting consistent.
Also, including the letter’s physical destination address is considered very formal. This should be present on cover letters that are uploaded or emailed as attachments. Of course, if you’re sending the cover letter in the body of an email, you should omit this section.
Write up a cover letter template, making sure to include the three key points above. You’ll be customizing each cover letter for every job application, but it’s helpful to have a general template to start from.
Make no mistake: the cover letter is a test. It’s a test to see how you present yourself, how you communicate, and how dedicated you can be to a task. Don’t neglect it, and don’t expect your resume or Linkedin profile alone to speak for you.
Congrats! Your job search toolkit is complete. Now it’s time to move on to the next phase — looking for actual, open job positions. The very first thing you must do is figure out which jobs are actually worth the time it takes to apply.
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