Once upon a time job seekers searched the newspaper want ads and sent
applications via mail or fax to prospective hiring managers. Naturally, this required the
accompaniment of an introductory, or cover letter to ensure the application got to the
right person. The evolution of the internet and online job seeking, however, has left
many wondering its value in modern recruitment practices. With job boards, email,
company websites and social media, does the cover letter still have a place in the
world? Below are a few points to consider when writing yours.
Know your audience
Recruitment agency or HR manager, large company or not-for-profit? The first step is
knowing whether or not to spend your time creating a letter. If you are responding to
a job posting from a recruitment agency, you are better off avoiding the cover letter all
together and calling them directly. Recruiters see such a high volume of resumes for
such a variety of jobs that most do not read the cover letter. So don't waste your time.
If you are applying directly to a human resources manager, small company or not-for-
profit, it is a good idea to include a traditional letter. The nature of their job, company or
industry typically makes these parties more interested in learning additional information
aside from that conveyed in a resume.
Large companies, in contrast, typically have online recruitment programs that help sort
candidates for the HR department. This may involve online questions from a variety of
drop-down boxes or the requirement to attach a cover letter. It is essential to complete
each section as otherwise, applications may not be processed.
Getting started -- the basics
You've decided to include a cover letter, so what is there to keep in mind?
- Keep it short. A cover letter is an introduction to your resume and does not need to
reiterate what you've already highlighted. Keep it short -- generally 3-4 paragraphs and
never longer than a page.
- Use key words. Like with your resume, it is important to
include key words, especially if you are applying through a company's online application
program. These sophisticated recruitment tools scan your resume for words that are
related to the job posting. By customizing for each role applied for, you'll increase your
chances of being shortlisted.
- List accomplishments, not duties. The cover letter is your opportunity to showcase
how you would add value to an organization and it should not be a laundry list of duties
nor a reiteration of your resume. Provide examples of how you helped a company
improve efficiencies, reduce expenditures or overcome obstacles.
- Research the organization. It may seem obvious, but find as much information as
possible on the employer through their job postings, website, social media, annual
reports, press releases etc. By incorporating information that relates to their vision and
values, you will appear to be a good fit from the start.
- Personalize it. Whenever possible, address your cover letter to the hiring or HR
manager. You can find this information on the job posting or company website. If you
have no luck there, LinkedIn allows you to search for individuals by company name.
- Try a template. There are many versions of online templates to make writing your
cover letter easier. Just keep in mind that it is never a good idea to plagiarize someone
else's work, especially as it would not be tied into the job in which you are applying!
- Embed, don't attach. If you are sending your application in an email, the cover letter
should reside within the body, not as an attachment. By creating an eye-catching,
easy-to-read format, you'll entice readers and give them reason to open your resume
Structure and content -- What to include?
- Paragraph One. State the role in which you are applying for and how you came to hear
about it, especially if through a current employee or professional contact. If you are
writing a prospecting letter to a company not currently advertising positions, indicate the
department or area in which you'd like to work. In total this should be 2-3 sentences.
- Paragraph Two. Describe what attracts you to the type of work, industry, company
or corporate culture. This is where doing your research will pay off as your goal is to
highlight why you would be a good fit with the organization. Demonstrate enthusiasm
and indicate how you would help the company reach its goals.
- Paragraph three. This is where you relate your accomplishments to the job
requirements. Demonstrate where you provided value and how you can contribute to
the company's success. Make sure to provide specific, quantifiable examples to add
depth and impact.
- Paragraph four. This is your call to action. Include an assertive statement about
proceeding to the next step of the hiring process and direct the employer to your
attached resume. Finally, reiterate how they can get in touch with you and thank them
for their time and consideration.
Job seekers need to take whatever steps necessary to stand out from the crowd and
get noticed by employers. By including an effective and conveying cover letter, you'll
highlight how you fit within the company culture and improve your chances of landing