Whether you’re in high school, college, or a certificate program, you’ve probably heard more than you care to about the importance of a good resume. But did you know that a good cover letter is also essential for a successful job search?
Even if you won’t be starting your professional job search in the near future, learning how to write good cover letters can help you prepare for your career. After all, you may be working part-time — or even full-time — while you pursue your degree. And, you’re almost certainly planning to look for employment upon completing your education.
But writing cover letters can be tricky. You need to be professional enough to make a good impression and personable enough to demonstrate why you’d make a good member of the team. Walking that line while also trying not to regurgitate your resume is tricky, even for the most gifted writer. To pull it off, it helps to understand what you’re really trying to accomplish with your cover letter in the first place.
What Do Good Cover Letters Accomplish?
1. communicating your specific qualifications for this job
The primary purpose of your cover letter is to explain why you’re uniquely qualified for the position at hand. Your resume paints a solid overall picture of your qualifications. But, your cover letter allows you to provide detailed information about what makes you ideal for this specific job. It gives prospective employers specifics regarding why you’re a great match for the position they have available.
“Managers are looking for you to show that you understand their business and that you care about what they need,” says Louise Fletcher, president of Blue Sky Resumes, speaking with CareerBuilder. “The cover letter is the only way of showing this, and that’s why you need to write a strong, customized letter that directly addresses the company’s needs.”
The best job application packages are custom-tailored for a specific employer and position. But, you’ll likely find that it’s easier to highlight the best and most relevant details through your cover letter as opposed to your resume. A letter allows for this type of information and flow. Sure, it might take a little time to construct. But, it’s arguably the most essential part of your entire job application.
2. Showing off some of your skills and your personality
Your cover letter provides you with the opportunity to move beyond the facts of your resume and really start to demonstrate yourself as a candidate in a more human and personal way. The tone of your cover letter can show potential employers a little something about your energy and personality. And, the way you write — your word choice, sentence structure, grammar — says something about your work ethic, attention to detail and overall capabilities.
Remember, when it comes to writing cover letters, it isn’t just what you say — it’s also how you say it. When written skillfully, a great cover letter can go a long way toward helping you to secure the attention and interest of potential employers.
3. Telling your story
Your resume details the specifics of your work and academic history. It tells potential future employers where you’ve been, what you did and when you did it. Your cover letter, on the other hand, takes these details and uses them to tell your professional story. It allows you to turn those dry facts into a compelling narrative. This helps prospective employers get to know you — and hopefully feel intrigued enough to want to call you in for an interview — in a way a resume simply can’t.
4. Explaining any anomalies
Sometimes, the cold, hard facts of your work or educational history might look a little strange on paper, especially in the brief snippets a resume allows. But, when you’re given a chance to explain your career path, everything makes perfect sense. Your cover letter is a great place to address anything unusual that might be on your resume. For example, if you have a gap in your work history, your cover letter provides the opportunity to frame what you were doing during that time. Smoothing out these kinds of wrinkles can help you to land an interview.
5. Demonstrating interest
A great cover letter doesn’t just show a potential employer that you’re capable of doing a job. It also shows that you’re passionate about filling the role in question. Don’t stifle your enthusiasm beneath a blanket of stuffy corporate speak. Be specific about why you want to work for the organization. Do you love their products and services? Have you always dreamed about working for the company that’s famous for X, Y or Z? Tell them that. Now is not the time to play it cool.
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Do all job seekers need a Cover Letter?
Learning how to write a great cover letter is an essential skill for all job seekers. These documents aren’t just a requirement for full-time, post-graduation jobs. Many employers require cover letters from their applicants. Students may even be asked to submit one as a part of a work-study program for their school.
Part of the reason that some students think that it’s OK to skip the cover letter is that not every hiring manager reads them. But others will — or won’t consider an application without a cover letter, even if they just skim the contents of the message. There’s no way of knowing which category the hiring team falls into, so it’s best to provide one either way. In any case, writing a cover letter provides you with an opportunity to make a good impression and land an interview. So, you should give it your all.
A few additional tips for students:
Don’t be too casual. There’s a fine line between demonstrating your enthusiasm and personality through your cover letter and being unprofessional. It’s important to be passionate. But, your cover letter should also demonstrate the maturity that employers value. So don’t be too casual in your communications with the company. This isn’t a text message to a friend; it’s a business letter to a potential employer. Observe those conventions and don’t be too familiar.
Show that you’ve researched the company. Your cover letter must show the hiring manager what kind of worker you are. One way to establish that you’re someone who does their homework is to research the company prior to applying for the job. Look at the company’s website to learn more about the organization’s culture and future goals. Follow the company on social media and read recent news items about the organization. Then, demonstrate that you understand what the company needs in your cover letter.
Take the time to customize. The job search process can feel really tedious at times. But, don’t get discouraged — and don’t start phoning it in. Taking the time to customize your cover letter for each job is really important. So, put in the time and effort to make each cover letter unique and the best it can be. Remember, employers are looking for candidates who are excited about this job, not just any job.
Proofread. Take some time away from your cover letter before giving it one final read. It’s tough to catch mistakes when you just wrote the document. You might not notice an error at this point because you’re so familiar with what you meant to say.
Have someone else take a look. It’s always a good idea to have someone else review all of the components of your job application before submitting it. And, your cover letter is no exception. Work with someone you trust to review your resume, cover letter and any other materials before sending them out to employers. They just might catch something you missed. Or, they may be able to offer a valuable insight that could help you make improvements. (Don’t forget to thank them for their time and work.)
Stay positive. The job search process can be scary and more than a little discouraging. Be easy on yourself. Don’t expect to get a job offer — or even a phone interview — from the first employer you contact, or even the fourth, fifth or 10th. It takes time to find a good job. (How much time? It depends on what you’re looking for. Conventional wisdom states that it takes about a month per ever $10,000 you hope to earn. But, there are a host of factors to consider and exact estimates are difficult to pinpoint.)
So, be patient and try to stay positive. You’ll find something that’s right for you.
Tell Us What You Think
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