Do you really need a cover letter? You’re not going to like this, but the answer is, it depends. In our pandemic, remote interview world, the cover letter controversy is front and center.
What is a cover letter?
The cover letter is a separate document that you send with your resume introducing you to the reader. On average, a cover letter should be about 250 to 300 words long, period. It is not a recap of your resume but your introduction to the employer and hiring manager. The cover letter is often called the letter of application. It should provide detailed information about why you are qualified for the position and what you know about the company.
How do I write a cover letter?
Writing a cover letter is more dreaded than drafting the resume itself. One point of view is to look at the cover letter as if you were drafting an email. Here is an outline of what you could use:
- The header should include your contact information and should be in a similar font and format as the resume.
- The opening paragraph comes right out and tells the employer the position you are applying for and where you saw the job posting.
- In the second paragraph, highlight several essential skills and experiences from your resume. Flex your muscles! Tell the employer briefly why they should hire you and how your qualifications match the job posting criteria.
- Close with a thank you and possibly suggested follow-up.
#1 Question: What do I use for the salutation?
According to thebalancecareers.com, they suggest, “Although you may not need to know whom to address when sending a cover letter via email, getting a name to address your letter to is important. Do your research to avoid having to use the generic “To Whom It May Concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam,” which can make things look like you didn’t make an effort to learn more about the job or the employer. The best ways to learn contact names are to call an organization’s front office or to review their website.”
That being said, it is not always possible to uncover that information. Small businesses may not have a company directory on the website, and you may not get past the phone receptionist to get a name. “Dear Hiring Manager” is often used and has no gender specificity. If you know the title of the hiring person, you could address the office itself, such as Dear Director or Dear Dean of Student Affairs.
Do I really need a cover letter?
The job market is highly competitive right now, and employers are looking for an applicant’s resume that stands out in the 10-20 seconds they take when sacking the pile of resume before them. Human resource and hiring managers prefer a cover letter when formatted adequately as a way to ‘get to know you’ before reading the resume. Job search companies such as Indeed and LinkedIn profess that the employers take notice of your efforts, the time you took to draft a cover letter, and how much you really want the job.
However, please, do NOT Google “sample cover letter” and swap in your information. Experienced hiring professionals can identify these templates, and you will be dismissed.
Sidebar note: if you repurpose cover letters for multiple jobs, please check carefully to be sure you are addressing the intended contact for the correct position. It happens.
Applicants can use cover letters to explain extenuating circumstances
When I first entered the job market, certain things were red flags on a resume:
- Employment gaps in between jobs
- “Job hopping” or staying in a position for less than 12-18 months.
- Believe it or not, take a career gap for parenthood, aka raising children
Today’s cover letter can help explain circumstances that would appear in the resume without the explanation:
- Applicants can briefly explain employment gaps in a cover letter.
- Transition into a new field can be tricky. The cover letter can highlight previous experiences and skills transferable to the position you are applying for.
- Relocation can raise an eyebrow, especially if it has happened more than once. Use the cover letter to explain why you are relocating.
It looks like the cover letter wins!
Take the time to draft a cover letter that will speak on your behalf and entice the hiring manager to take that leap and interview you for the position. Ask a respected colleague, mentor, or friend to review and see what they think. True, they know you already, but did they learn something from the cover letter, then mission accomplished!
About Put Another Way
Our resume writers believe a resume is the selling of you. A resume is much more than your job history, skill summary, education, and interests. Your resume is a virtual introduction to the reader, and its purpose is to differentiate you from the other applicants. You are not there to represent yourself, so this simple piece of paper is not so simple. Contact us for a free consultation for help with your resume or cover letter.
Happy job hunting!