The Great Resignation has made the job market highly competitive—for employers. Workers have been quitting in record numbers, looking for better opportunities and higher pay. Four and a half million people quit their jobs in March alone, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
If you’re currently looking for a job, you might expect a quicker recruitment process. You’ve attached your resume. You’ve copied all the information it contains into the application form on an employer’s website for the umpteenth time. Perhaps, you can at least skip a cover letter?
Not necessarily. Even in the hot labor market, some employers won’t let you submit your application without a cover letter. Plus, it can actually help your prospects of getting an interview. So don’t panic: Here’s how to write a cover letter.
What Is a Cover Letter?
A cover letter is a message you submit alongside your resume. Often, it’s one of the first things a recruiter will read. Cover letters offer a chance to make a memorable first impression.
What Is the Purpose of a Cover Letter?
An effective cover letter allows a hiring manager to get to know you as a professional. It also provides you an opportunity to say what sets you apart from other applicants. Plus, a cover letter adds a personal touch that a resume can’t deliver.
“The resume says, ‘This is why I’m great,'” says Shel Horowitz, director of Accurate Writing & More with 30 years of experience in professional resume writing. “The cover letter says, ‘This is why I’m perfect for the opening you have.’ It’s targeted to the specific position. It’s a chance to amplify your best qualifications for that exact job, whether or not they are mentioned on the resume.”
What to Include in a Cover Letter
When competing for a top position, a well-written cover letter can make or break your chances of a call back from a recruiter.
“A strong cover letter is a marketing tool, and it should generally follow a marketing formula known as AIDA: Attention, Interest, Desire and Action,” explains Dan Shortridge, a resume writer and founder of Results Resumes. “It should grab the attention of the hiring manager or recruiter; spark their interest further; make them desire to speak with the candidate… and convince them to take prompt action, by setting up an interview.”
Here is what to include in your cover letter to achieve precisely that.
Header With Date and Contact Information
A letter header is the first step. Here, you want to include:
- Your first and last name
- Phone number
- Professional email address
- Name of the hiring manager and their professional title
- Name and address of the company you’re applying to
You can also add professional social media accounts, such as LinkedIn or your business Twitter account, and a link to your professional website or portfolio.
Salutation or Greeting
The hiring manager will be reading your cover letter and resume, so doing a little research into who that person is will go a long way in making your cover letter stand out.
“If you don’t see the name in the posting, do a little homework—like calling the company and asking for the name (and spelling) of the person leading that search,” Horowitz suggests.
Alternatively, you can search a team page on the company’s website or look up the employer’s LinkedIn page. Searching for manager positions in the department you’re applying for might lead you to the right person.
If your search proves fruitless, here are some helpful alternatives you could use instead:
- Dear Hiring Manager,
- Dear [Department Name] Manager,
- Dear [Company Name] Team,
Your cover letter is for selling yourself and your skills. (See what hard and soft skills employers are looking for.) You can lead with an impressive accomplishment featuring quantifiable results or a belief statement that matches the organization’s values and goals.
Another good way to create an effective opening is by conveying your passion and enthusiasm. If you’re a genuine fan of the company, let it show. Or use your passion for your craft to market yourself as a driven candidate.
You’ve grabbed the recruiter’s attention. Now you can show them why you’re the best fit for the job.
According to Horowitz, many job applicants make the mistake of making themselves the main focus of a cover letter.
“It should be about the employer’s needs: ‘The special assignment that I brought in under budget and ahead of schedule at XYZ is directly relevant to your…'”, Horowitz suggests as an example. “It should be written in an informal tone and convey why you’re a terrific candidate without sounding like bragging.”
The hiring manager will also want to determine whether you’re a cultural fit. They’re looking for people with beliefs that fit with the company’s values. This alignment helps them determine who may stick around long term.
Researching the company’s business model and core beliefs are good ways to find what you like about it. (You can learn more about what it’s like to work at top companies through Forage’s free virtual work experience programs.) If a company’s beliefs match yours, let them know in your cover letter.
In the closing paragraph, thank the hiring manager for their consideration. It takes time to read a cover letter, so you’ll want to express your gratitude.
The last paragraph also presents an opportunity to briefly reiterate your value and what you can bring to the table. Here, make sure to include a final call to action. For example, you can express enthusiasm about learning more about the opportunity.
Letter Ending and Signature
Once you’ve completed your closing paragraph, all that’s left is to add a professional closing salutation. You can keep it simple with these examples:
- Kind regards,
- Thank you,
After that, you’re almost done: Make sure to proofread your cover letter before sending it.
How Long Should a Cover Letter Be?
Successful cover letters stand out and leave a lasting impression. If it’s too long, you risk boring your reader. If it’s too short, you may not be conveying all the vital information. Keep your cover letter under one print page, or about 400-500 words, Shortridge suggests.
“Just like on your resume, each word should be carefully chosen for maximum impact,” Shortridge says. “Remember that it shouldn’t repeat the information from your resume, but highlight important accomplishments and attributes that make you a compelling candidate.”
Learn how long a resume should be.
The Bottom Line
Cover letters are a hiring manager’s first impression of you. Make sure they know precisely why you want the position and what you’ll bring to the company. Be clear and concise, and customize each cover letter for the specific job and employer.
If the employer doesn’t require a cover letter, it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth writing. Understandably, you may not want to put in the work for no guaranteed result, but a cover letter can give you an edge when you’re new to the industry or applying for a position with a top employer.
Are you working on your professional profile? Here are the top skills to put on your resume.
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