Cover letters are somewhat mystifying as a concept. Your employer has a detailed record of your skills, education, and experience in the form of your resume. If you’ve written your resume with an opening statement of some kind, they even have a personalized “about me” to get a sense of you beyond the numbers.
So what is the purpose of a cover letter and why do you need a cover letter in the first place?
There are several features a cover letter offers your potential employer beyond what your resume can. Let’s take a look at the following:
- Benefits of a cover letter
- What to include in your cover letter
- Sections of a cover letter
- Cover letter example
What are the benefits of a cover letter?
A Quick Snapshot
While your resume is technically formatted to be pleasing to the eye, it’s still a lot of information to take in. A cover letter offers your employer the meat of the resume upfront and from the get-go, which serves to make them more interested. It lifts the veil (or scroll up the page) to see what else you have to offer.
A cover letter is the first impression in a slightly less technical format than a resume, which allows your voice to shine through more uniquely. You can use your gift of gab (or years of experience) to touch on the key points of why you’re a good fit while also making a personal connection. This helps to more effectively sell “You” as a product.
Your employer wants to know that you desire to work for them, especially as you climb the ladder to high pay grades. Expressing some knowledge about the company in your cover letter is a good way to earn some bonus points, at the least for your willingness to research and showcase interest.
In addition to obtaining a better sense of who you are as a person, a cover letter expresses to your employer how you directly fit their needs. This is your chance to explain how your 8 years of training in XY and 10 years of direct experience in YZ is exactly what they need to fill the role of XYZ.
What are you supposed to say in a cover letter?
Job hunting can be a stressful process. However, a little preparation makes all the difference, and we can alleviate some of those cover letter stressors. With these few quick tips, you’ll be well on your way to your next job.
Know your stuff
Your cover letter, among other things, is a story, highlighting why you’re the best fit for the job. Before you can explain why you’re the best fit, you need to know how you fit – through a little company research.
Get to know what they want in the job, who they are in terms of values and services, and if there are any challenges you can address in your potential role. Be sure to target industry, or company-specific language in your cover letter to let your employer know you’ve taken the time to do some research.
Starting your cover letter with “Hi, I’m W, applying for X job; I heard of you from Y” is not only a snoozefest but also a waste of time. The company doesn’t care how you found them; they just want to know how you can mutually benefit each other.
Jump straight in with your kicker, such as your extended experience, years of professional training, or why you’re excited to get to work.
Emphasize not only you but your value
Your cover letter and resume come together to form a sales pitch on a very particular product: You. In selling yourself, you want to tailor why you’re an asset to the position at hand (remember that company research?).
This can be done by lifting some of the keywords from the job posting and sprinkling them throughout your cover letter. Industry-specific language allows you to share your working knowledge of the business and succinctly explain how you can solve their problems.
Keep it brief
An effective cover letter should run no longer than 400 words in total, though if you can hit your target in 300, more power to you. As a rule, anything more than a page is too long.
Sections of a Cover Letter
Now that you know what should be in the cover letter let’s discuss the best way to format your cover letter. Overall, there are four main sections.
Addressing your cover letter does not have to be a mystery. If you are not sure who to address the letter to, reach out to the employer directly to ask the name of the best person.
If you do not have any luck, the safe approach is to start your letter with “Dear Hiring Manager”. This is clear and no the point and you are not confused about the gender of the person you are addressing.
Body (Paragraphs 1-3)
Paragraph 1 – Your Introduction. This paragraph should clearly state why you are writing this email. In the first paragraph, you want to catch the reader’s attention.
Honestly, you might be the 100th cover letter the hiring manager is reading this week. Help yourself stand out by including core strengths and why you are the best fit for the job.
Paragraph 2 – The second paragraph is about your achievements and what you can bring to the role. This paragraph is all about showing your value. Give a brief highlight of some things you’ve accomplished and the results.
Of course, your resume will go into more detail. The goal again is to catch the reader’s attention and keep them interested.
Paragraph 3 – The third paragraph is really your time to shine. Here you can brag (humbly) on what you know about the company. But make sure to do your research, specifically as it relates to the role.
Go past the basic “About Us” section on the company’s website. Search for recent news stories, press, LinkedIn articles, etc.
Closing (Paragraph 4)
Now it is time to formally close your letter. Keep it professional by closing with “Sincerely”. Do not make the mistake of being too friendly by writing “Cheers”, Best “Wishes”, or “Thanks Xoxo”.
There is a small likelihood that you will be submitting a cover letter in person. But if you are, add your signature at the end/bottom of the letter. When submitting an electronic cover letter, add your name, address, and contact information at the end of the letter.
What does a proper cover letter look like?
There are so many different cover letter examples depending on the job of which you are applying. Below is a sample cover letter to get you started.
What should not be included in a cover letter?
- Avoid grammatical errors for sure. Since your cover letter is your first impression, misspelled words and bad grammar is a quick way to turn off a potential employer. Grammarly is a great Google Chrome extension to help you catch any mistakes.
- In addition to grammatical errors, do not misspell the name of the company for which you are applying. Trust me, this happens more than you think. Take the extra second to double-check the spelling before you send the cover letter off with your resume.
- Don’t bad talk your previous employer. If you left on a not so good note your cover letter is not the time or place to go into detail on how you hated your old job.
- Your salary desires. Your cover letter is meant to show your value and interest in the company not negotiate your worth. The only exception is if the employer directly asks you to include salary requirements in the cover letter.
- Lastly, keep the focus on the job in question. Don’t include information not related to the job just because you think it will make you sound amazing. Also don’t include skills not directly related to the job.
But do I really need a cover letter?
In conclusion, it depends. Not all jobs require a cover letter and some hiring managers actually do not like to read them. If the job application offers the option to include a cover letter we suggest taking advantage of the opportunity.
Going the extra mile to show interest in the job could be the thing that put your application over the top.
When you’re ready to negotiate your salary grab our Time to Get Paid Card and get your free salary negotiation guide. This guide will cover basic salary negotiation tactics, and how to negotiate a raise.