Dear Sam: I think I have a pretty good résumé, but I have no idea where to start when writing a cover letter. Is it necessary to submit a cover letter when applying for a job? I'd prefer to just submit my résumé so I don't have to write a cover letter for every job I am interested in. I'm finding I don't apply for some positions as I can't get over the stumbling block of writing the cover letter to accompany my résumé. Help! - Tony
Dear Tony: A cover letter is your opportunity to introduce yourself to a prospective employer, expand on and personalize your résumé, and highlight how your skills and experiences will fulfill the employer's needs. A cover letter should be a key part of every application, regardless of whether it is requested. The letter should engage the hiring manager and propel him or her to read your résumé.
You should not have to create a new cover letter for each job you are interested in. If you have defined your objective when creating your résumé, meaning you know what you want to do, who you are marketing your candidacy to, and what language will attract his or her interest, then your cover letter will be developed using that information as your guide. When you have taken time to really understand what will trigger your target audience, and have incorporated that content into your application materials, your résumé and cover letter will not need to be modified each time you apply for a position.
Keep in mind a cover letter not only expresses your interest in the company and/or position, but also gives the employer the opportunity to observe your attentiveness to detail, spelling, grammar, and quality of your written communication. While you may have heard stories of employers not even looking at cover letters, I have heard just as many in which employers focus heavily on the cover letter as a window into the style of the candidate.
When writing your cover letter, there are many strategies you can employ in the development and organization of the content. Here are some guidelines:
1. Open the letter noting your key qualifications and the position of interest. Use the first paragraph to capture the recipient's attention and make him or her want to read further.
2. Use the center section of your cover letter to explore your experiences, successes, and skills that have supported your performance. Oftentimes, I use bullet points to focus the hiring manager's attention on the most important pieces of information, which also helps to break up a heavy-looking one-page letter. Bullet points also allow for a quick way to tailor your cover letter to a specific opportunity, should that be necessary.
3. Close with an action-oriented statement. Do not take the passive approach and wait for a hiring manager to call you. Of course, if the posting says no calls, don't call; but most of the time, a follow-up call is appropriate to reiterate your interest.
4. Keep it brief. Generally cover letters should be no more than one page and include ample white space to facilitate ease of readability. Don't however make it so brief that at a quick glance it looks like you aren't bringing anything to the table.
5. Do all you can to obtain the name of the hiring manager and address your cover letter accordingly. When all else fails, address the letter to Dear Hiring Manager.
6. Use the same heading from your résumé in order to present a clean and professional package. Don't forget to sign your letter if you are sending a hard copy.
Take a look at the cover letter I have presented (available online at www.ladybug-design.com/blog), it engages the reader by immediately introducing the candidate's qualifications, using an attractive format to pull the reader's eye through the main section of the letter, and providing proof and support of claims made in the letter and résumé. As you can see, a cover letter can serve a much higher purpose than you might have thought, by capturing increased interest in your candidacy.
Samantha Nolan is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer and owner of Ladybug Design, a full-service résumé-writing firm. Do you have a résumé or job search question for Dear Sam? Reach Samantha at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more about Sam's résumé writing services, visit www.ladybug-design.com or call 614-570-3442 or 1-888-9-LADYBUG (1-888-952-3928).