Q: Are cover letters important?
A: Yes, cover letters are still very important. They present a terrific opportunity to differentiate and sell yourself as the best candidate for the job opening.
Cover letters should always do more than just preview what’s in a resume. Job seekers can summarize and highlight their professional history and strengths, as well as specific soft skills and traits that they wouldn’t include on a resume.
Other things that you can include in a cover letter, but not a resume:
- Talk about why you’re interested in the opportunity or the company – This is the primary purpose of the cover letter and something that the hiring manager will be looking for, especially if it’s not obvious from your resume.
- Explain ‘red flags’ that may be in your resume – While you should stick to factual information on your resume, the cover letter is a good place to briefly explain things in your work history that may be questionable, such as an employment gap or your location.
- Mention a personal connection– If you have a personal connection to the job opening, i.e. you know someone who works or worked at the company, and mentioning their name could help you get a foot in the door, the cover letter is a good place to communicate that connection. Of course, it’s advisable to get the contact’s permission first.
Some best practices for writing cover letters:
Length – Just like a resume, length is important. A cover letter should be no longer than a half page or 3-4 paragraphs.
Keep it fresh – As I mentioned above, the cover letter shouldn’t repeat what’s in your resume. Keep the content focused on why you’re a good fit for the company or position.
Address it to a specific person – It’s better to address the cover letter to a proper name than to use a general greeting such as “To Whom it May Concern.” Do your research; call and ask who to address in your cover letter.
Personalize it – Use the cover letter to differentiate yourself among other candidates by revealing who you are and what your personality is like. Consider the questions that interviewers like to ask and mention your career goals, aspirations, and/or where you see yourself in the future.
Demonstrate knowledge – The cover letter is a good opportunity to show that you’ve researched the company you’re applying to. Incorporate the research into your reasons for being interested in the opportunity or into an explanation of why you’re a good match.
Know your audience – While the cover letter presents a good opportunity to communicate your personal interests, it’s also important to match your style with the hiring organization. Different organizations have different workplace priorities and values that can depend on their size, industry, competitive landscape, whether they’re a headquarter location vs. a branch office, etc.
Always Proofread – Have someone proofread the letter for you before sending it. Nothing will get you eliminated faster than typos!
Gwendolen Andre is a Senior Group Manager on the Major Accounts Division at Professional Staffing Group. She manages four teams that work with a variety of clients within the higher education and healthcare industries.