A Cover Letter, by definition, is a short statement sent by a job seeker, typically in an email, when applying for a particular position. It should include more details about your unique qualifications for a position, and why you are applying to this job. A resume is usually attached to most Cover Letters.
Some professionals do not feel it is important to include a Cover Letter, especially when it is considered “Optional” on an application; but if written well, a Cover Letter may make the difference regarding your status as a candidate. Even though some recruiters don’t always read every Cover Letter, the effort, nonetheless, demonstrates your willingness to make the extra effort.
A well-written Cover Letter will help distinguish you and provide context to your resume, regardless of experience level. Whether you have no experience; are making a career change; are a recent graduate; or highly experienced, a Cover Letter will often make a big difference. Whichever category, your Cover Letter should follow a standard outline:
SUBJECT LINE - Inquiry for (position). You can also add your name.
HEADER - In the email, you can match your Header from your resume, such as:
(NAME) - CANDIDATE FOR (POSITION)
Phone: 123 456 7890
SALUTATION - Assuming you have identified an individual in the company to which you are applying, it is always best to address your Cover Letter to that person - by name. This makes the letter more personal. If it is not possible, then “To Whom It May Concern” is also acceptable. However, it is so easy to identify names of employees at most companies through LinkedIn and other online channels, you should really make an effort to find a contact.
Addressing the recipient by name shows that you have taken time to research the company. This will be the first impression that you may make with a recruiter, so opening with a personal greeting and introducing yourself and your objective, will generate the best results
PARAGRAPH ONE - In the first paragraph you should restate your name and your purpose. Include the title of the job to which you are applying, provide the name of anyone who may have referred you, or indicate how you learned about this opportunity. Try to include something positive about the company. Here, you may also explain, with enthusiasm, why you are interested in their position.
PARAGRAPH TWO - In a few Bullets, highlight some of your qualifications, matching your skills to keywords you have identified in the job description. Use action verbs and creative adjectives; present information demonstrating that you are a strong candidate for the position, and show how your experience matches the company’s requirements.
With a strong Headline and a few key bold Bullets in the first or second paragraph, a recruiter will quickly be able to assess your background for further consideration.
CLOSING - Restate your interest and qualifications, and request a time for a follow up call or meeting. For example:
I would be delighted to discuss my qualifications with you in a follow up call or meeting.
I will reach out to you next week to schedule a call or meeting. Thank you for your consideration.
SIGNATURE - Restate your full name and phone number.
If there are any gaps in your career history, those can be explained in the Cover Letter, while also focusing on what you can contribute to their position. Always limit the Cover Letter to one-half/one page, around 300-400 words, keeping it concise.
For the candidate with no prior experience, or for someone just entering the workforce, it is extremely difficult to draft a resume when there is no background history to justify that you are qualified for the job. So it is essential to present your interests and background in a way that aligns with the job description from alternative experiences. In this case, it will be beneficial to include in your Cover Letter some accomplishments or skills achieved while in school, in the community or in a prior job that is not related to the current job.
Then add one or two sentences describing why you are interested in the company, and more importantly, what you will contribute if hired. Because you have no direct experience, it is best to list skills and attributes you possess that exactly match the job description and where you can make a contribution. Reviewing the job description for keywords and matching skills is essential. An example might be:
My name is XYZ and I am writing regarding the position of (Type the exact job title) which is posted on your website. I am a recent graduate of (Institution) and was referred by (Name the person), who indicated that you would be the ideal contact in order to pursue this opportunity. My role as class President during my senior year, along with my excellent academic record and community service, have provided me with skills that match your requirements, such as:
- Excellent leadership: held leadership roles in various campus organizations
- Communication and organization skills. Assisted professor with administrative projects
- Maintained a 3.9 all 4 years
- Technical skills: Word; Excel; Social Media
I believe that my enthusiasm, dedication and high ethical standards make me an excellent candidate for this entry-level role at (Company).
Many graduates looking for their first jobs are often overwhelmed and nervous about the application process, fearing that they have nothing of value to add to their resumes. However,
to the contrary, a recent grad will always have some very good, relevant experience; it just takes creativity and reviewing your academic history as well as outside activities. Because you have successfully graduated, your education should be the show-stopper, so that the employer can see that you have recently graduated, and have navigated the numerous courses and responsibilities attendant to all academic endeavors.
Recent graduates may also include language that speaks to what you have learned in school that matches the job description. Writing a strong Career Objective, including your major and leadership skills, would be a good place to start, such as:
With a dual major in World Affairs and Foreign Languages, I am seeking an opportunity within a global organization where I can apply my knowledge and interests in international financial services supporting the economic development of Third World Countries.
As with this example, your Job Objective should appear right after your introduction. Then include a brief description of your qualifications, and the type of job you are seeking. In this way, the recruiter will understand immediately that you are interested in a specific job and will want to learn more about you. Writing a Cover Letter when you are a recent graduate, or have limited prior work experience, requires creativity and research.
For a candidate who has decided to make a Career Change, the Cover Letter should address your specific situation in the beginning. After the Salutation and Introduction, including language that lets the recruiter know that you are seeking a career change will assist them in their evaluation of your resume. Language such as:
I am very excited to apply for the Regional Sales position at (Company). It has been my goal to transition to a career in sales, and an opportunity with (Company) matches my objectives. I believe my prior organizational skills and leadership experience as an administrator will add value to your organization. I have also developed networking strategies and communication skills with clients that have benefited my current organization - and which are easily transferable to a sales position.
Again, you might add a few Bullets to showcase skills that will transfer to a new position. As with all Cover Letters, do your research and write a compelling letter that is specific to a particular job. Explain your reasons for the career change and emphasize the skills that may appeal to the hiring manager.
Another example for an introduction in a Cover Letter for a career change:
I am very interested in transitioning to a position in the Human Resources field where my strong communication skills, attention to detail, and ethical standards will add value to a company such as (Company).
While my prior experience is basically in the software business, I believe my ability to identify problems, find solutions and analyze issues will easily transfer to the (desired position.)
Although I have not previously worked in your industry, I am eager to showcase my transferrable skills that make me uniquely qualified for your position.
For the Career-Change Candidate, a Cover Letter helps explain to the recruiter how the skills listed on your resume will transfer to the position of interest.
For the Experienced Candidate, a Cover Letter following the outline provided, is the first step. However, including specific projects or accomplishments in your current or recent job, that demonstrate your viability as a candidate, will be the best approach. Here, it is less important to list bullets with skills and experiences, repeated on your resume. Instead, you will want to tell a story that engages the reader and demonstrates how their job is the perfect next step in your career.
Recently, another form of Cover Letter has emerged - the Disruptive Cover Letter, which is a very bold and creative way to gain the hiring manager’s attention. This approach is not for everyone. One candidate sent an email as follows:
The Subject Line read, YOUR NEXT SUCCESSFUL (Job Title)
The candidate then introduced himself and expressed interest in the job. He then attached a link for a short Video which was a visual “cover letter” further detailing his interest and qualifications for a specific position, followed by a written closing and expression of appreciation. A Disruptive Cover Letter may gain the attention of the recruiter, but you should carefully choose whether it is the right approach for the specific job or company to which you are applying.
Even if a Cover Letter is not required, it should always accompany any application or resume. It will demonstrate that you have researched the company, that you understand the job requirements and will showcase how your skills match their job description. Always attach your resume to any introductory letter, so that the reader will have the opportunity to fully view your profile.