Those that are applying to jobs often focus hours of their time on developing a great resume. Your resume is the sales sheet that you use to convince employers that you are someone to consider — someone to call in for an interview. Every detail needs to be perfect, which makes it important to dedicate ample time to perfecting a resume that gets noticed.
But there is more to an application than a resume. It is also recommended that you complete a “cover letter” — three paragraph letter that acts as your first opportunity to explain yourself to the employer. The resume may be the most important part of the application, but a great cover letter may be the difference between receiving a phone call and being left behind.
What is Included in the Cover Letter?
The role of the cover letter is to add details that help the employer learn more about you as a person and as a candidate. They are there to complement the resume by sharing with the hiring manager why you are a good fit for the job, and add information that may not fit easily into a resume.
Cover letters typically follow a very specific format:
- Your Contact Information
- The Date
- The Employer’s Contact Information
- The Greeting (eg “Dear Mr. Smith,” or “To Whom it May Concern”)
- Intro Paragraph About the Job You’re Applying For
- Body Paragraph About Why You’re a Good Fit/Explain Your History
- Concluding Paragraph About When to Call/Meet for Interview
While there are some excellent cover letters that differ from the format above, those that are new to cover letters should try to follow this format exactly, because some hiring managers are strict about their expectations for cover letter submissions.
An example cover letter is as follows:
What is the Purpose of the Cover Letter?
The content of the cover letter is typically only three paragraphs, and the first and third paragraph are basically decided for you (the first paragraph is an introduction to the job and why you’re applying, and the third paragraph is a brief summary and a call to action).
All of the information that can help you get the job will essentially be limited to the second paragraph only. That means you do not have a lot of space to talk about yourself. But that is also why you have the resume. The second paragraph should be focused on what the resume doesn’t cover, for example:
- The specific reasons that you believe you are a good fit for the role.
- A description about your work experiences that made you a good fit for the job.
- Some of the major projects you’ve worked on that would impress the employer.
Ideally, it’s your place to highlight what makes you the best candidate. Cover letters are not meant to simply repeat what is on the resume. The employer will very likely have already looked at the resume. Rather, the cover letter is simply your opportunity to introduce your skills, experiences, history, or anything else that may help you impress the employer and get the job.
Other Uses of the Cover Letter
Cover letters can also be used to explain why you are switching careers, why you have any gaps in your resume, or why you were recommended for the company (if someone recommended you). You should always think of the cover letter as a way to speak for you where the resume cannot. Resumes are about data, cover letters are there to help give that data a story in a way that will help you get the job.
If you have never written a cover letter before, or your previous cover letters have not provided you with the results that you wanted, it’s not uncommon to have questions. Below are several questions that job seekers often have about cover letters, and their answer.
Q: Do I Have to Write a Cover Letter in That Exact Format?
A: There are no rules about cover letters that are set in stone. Some incredible cover letters look very different than the traditional cover letter format. But if you’ve never written a cover letter before, it considered a best practice to stick to this style. Some hiring managers are traditionalists. Others are not. Without inside information on the hiring manager and previous experience writing cover letters, you may want to consider using only the most well known cover letter format.
Q: How Long Should a Cover Letter Be?
A: Cover letters, at least in their typical format, should only be one page, top to bottom.
Q: Should I Copy/Paste My Cover Letter in an Email?
A: As more and more people email their resumes rather than send them via normal postal service, the rules for cover letters have become a bit murkier. Different hiring managers have very different expectations, so there is no clear answer. Nevertheless, what most experts recommend is that you send the cover letter in word document/PDF format, rather than cut and paste it into the email.
However, you should also not leave the email blank. Before they see your cover letter or your resume, they are going to read your email. It is recommended that you write a paragraph or two about why you believe you are a good fit for the role in the email as well, and these paragraphs should not be directly cut from your cover letter.
Q: Can I Reuse the Same Cover Letter for Each Job?
A: That is not recommended. In fact, the cover letter is a great opportunity for you to picture what the employer most wants to hear based on the job advertisement and your own company research, and then determine what would work best to help you get that job.
Cover letters are an important part of the application process, and a great way to make sure your resume speaks for you and your abilities. Take the time to see cover letter samples, review cover letter writing tips, and write a cover letter for the job. The more time you spend, the more likely you will be in a position to get a call back.