Q&A: Are Cover Letters Still Relevant?


Q. Most online job boards seem to only want a copy of my resume, but some postings require a cover letter and others make them optional. A cover letter takes a lot of thought and time. Does it really matter? -DL

A. Over the years, I’ve often had similar doubts–mainly because I’ve seen so many generic cover letters that simply rehash contents of resumes. But employers say a well-written cover letter can be a tie-breaker as they review dozens, if not hundreds, of resumes. Culpwrit has has several posts about cover letters, including Jill Stewart’s Compelling Cover Letter: Why They Still Matter.

While initial average resume screening time runs less than 10 seconds, a powerfully written cover letter can hold the attention of potential employers.

Confirmation of the importance of cover letters comes from Resume Builder, which refers to cover letters as “a complimentary dessert with an already-delicious meal. The hiring manager could have finished their food and moved on to sample a similar dish, but you’ve kept them at the table a bit longer.”

Here are Resume Builder’s eight steps for creating a “delicious” cover letter:

Steps for Creating a Cover Letter

Writing a cover letter may seem intimidating, but it’s not that difficult once you nail the format. In fact, you can probably whip out a cover letter in 30 minutes or so once you learn the basics. We’ve made it easy for you to get started by providing eight practical tips for cover letter creation below.

1. Research the Company and Position

Some people use a generic cover letter for every position, but that’s not ideal. Don’t just jump right into cover letter creation without learning more about the company and position you want. Potential employers already know you want a job, so they need reassurance that you want a job with them.

Start by visiting a company’s website for more information. Some businesses list important details on the front page, but you can also find this info by clicking on About Us tabs or Our Mission headers. These are usually at the top or bottom of the page.

You should also visit a company’s social media pages to see how they present themselves. Are they formal and sophisticated, or are they down to earth and approachable? Narrowing down a company’s voice makes it easier for you to write your cover letter in an appropriate tone.

2. Make Your Intro Engaging

Think of your cover letter as a short story about your life, minus the personal stuff. Many people put down a book if the first few sentences don’t capture their attention, so keep that in mind as you format your letter. Start with a greeting, such as “Hello” or “Good morning” after you address your letter to the appropriate party, and then follow up with a brief description of why you’re applying for the job. Make it interesting yet relevant, and don’t be afraid to get creative if you’re not applying for a conservative company.

“I’m applying for the office manager position at ABC Office Supplies because I have 5 years of experience” gets your point across, but it isn’t the most interesting sentence. Instead, try a sentence like, “My current boss has never run out of pens, and I can laminate a visitor’s badge in less than 15 seconds.” This sentence is fun, but it also shows you how help your current office run smoothly by ordering supplies and helping guests promptly.

3. Get to the Point

Earlier we mentioned that a cover letter is a short story about your life. That means you should keep your cover letter brief, not detail your work history from high school till now or list every class you ever took in college. Potential employers want to know the basics of why you’re awesome rather than reading page after page of your achievements.

Dive in with an engaging introduction, and immediately mention why you’re applying for the position. Highlight your strengths here, and try to make sure they match the qualifications requested in the company’s job posting. If you find it easier to share skills or certifications via bullet points rather than paragraphs, feel free to do that in the body of your cover letter.

4. Highlight Why You’re a Great Fit

Companies don’t just need reassurance that you’re a great employee — they need to know that you’re a great employee for their company. Highlight personality traits, work-related skills and relevant education that show why a business should choose you over other candidates. You can often find exactly what a company is looking for by viewing their job postings or reading a company’s website description.

Look for key words such as “dependable,” “creative,” “tech savvy” and “flexible” when you read job listings, and incorporate them into your letter. For example, a company that wants a dependable employee may appreciate that you won the Perfect Attendance award three years in a row at your last job. If the business wants someone creative, make sure your cover letter is engaging enough to show that you’re creative without specifically stating you’re creative.

5. Name Drop When Possible

Sometimes networking matters just as much as your employment history and educational background, so don’t be afraid to name drop when you can. If you learned about the position from your friend Marilyn, who you’ve known for years, mention that a long-time friend told you the company is hiring. Bonus points if Marilyn works in a managerial position or is close to the hiring manager, as this may up your odds of scoring an interview.

If you don’t personally know anybody at the company but have had minimal contact with some employees, mention that. For example, you may have spoken with the receptionist or sales manager when you called to inquire about whether the company was hiring. In this situation, you can write something like “After speaking with Tom, your night manager for the production line…” in your cover letter. It’s also okay to mention family friendships in some situations, such as if your mom has been friends with the company’s CEO since preschool and told you about the open position.

6. Write With Confidence

Employers want applicants who believe in themselves, not applicants who aren’t sure they can handle the company’s expectations. With that in mind, avoid statements like “I think I might like it here” or “I hope you call me after seeing this cover letter.” Replace these phrases with confident statements such as “I have strong Microsoft Office skills” or “I look forward to hearing from you soon.” Make sure your cover letter doesn’t have any phrases like “I don’t know,” “I don’t understand,” “I’m not sure” or “If you want to” in it.

7. Finish With a Call to Action

Your cover letter helps sell your skills, so it’s important to end with a call to action. There are many ways you can do this, including:

  • Please call me with questions about my qualifications.
  • I’ll follow up with you next week regarding this position if I don’t hear back before then.
  • Please let me know when you’re available for an interview to discuss this opportunity.
  • Please review my enclosed resume and let me know if you have any questions.

These statements encourage hiring managers to take action rather than just tossing your cover letter in a pile.

8. Check for Typos and Grammar Issues

Typos show employers that you don’t pay attention to your output, and they may even cost you the position. This is especially true if you’re applying for a position that focuses heavily on written communication or data entry. These errors also detract attention away from your skills, making it difficult for recruiters to remember why you’re the best candidate for the job.

After drafting your cover letter, wait 20 or 30 minutes before submitting it and then proofread it thoroughly. You can also ask a friend or family member to look it over for you.

A cover letter helps you stand out among other applicants — but not always in a good way. Make sure you format your cover letter correctly and check for grammar errors before you submit it.

Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash

One thought on “Q&A: Are Cover Letters Still Relevant?

  1. An excellent piece! When I was a managing employer I always viewed the cover letter as the window opening for the candidate that allowed me to know more than the basic employee stuff. However, if you really wanted to be instantly trashed or deleted, open with “to whom it may concern.” Full stop. Trash. Delete. If I had the time or felt charitable I might have replied and pointed out how stupid it made the candidate look.

    Do well!

    David L. Shank, APR, Fellow PRSA, Ret.

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