These days there is some debate around whether cover letters are necessary. Rumour has it that no-one reads them, and if that's the case, why waste the effort? The truth is that cover letters are still an important part of your job application, for the following reasons:
- Some recruiters read them. In fact, some pay more attention to the cover letter than your resume, as the letter format allows for a more personal and engaging statement of your case for employment. For these recruiters, the letter is crucial. (By the way, when I say "recruiter" here I'm talking about everyone involved in the assessment of your application, including HR and hiring managers).
- Of recruiters who don't read cover letters, some still want to see that you took the time and made the effort. They want to see that you played the game, and didn't take short cuts. They may not read the cover letter, but they'll eliminate you from the competition if you didn't include one. With these recruiters, including a letter is still make-or-break.
- Some recruiters don't read cover letters and don't care if you wrote one; however, you can't know if that's the recruiter who'll look at your application, and chances are at least one member of any hiring team wants to see a letter, so it's best to hedge your bets and include one. They certainly won't eliminate you from consideration because you DID write a cover letter!
Since there is a possibility that your cover letter won't be read, and since the recruiters who do read them are time pressed, you should aim for brevity (make their life easy), originality (make their life more interesting) and connection (paint a clear picture of who you are).
Here, in cover letter format, are some pointers on drafting a letter that gets read, and gets interviews:
RE: Cover Letter Suggestions
Dear Job Applicant,
Recruiters get bored reading cover letters, especially bad ones (which is most of them). They’re tired of the standard “Please accept this application for…” introduction, followed by rambling, multi-paragraph essays on why you’d be a great hire. Keep the letter to 1 page and 3 paragraphs. Don't cut and paste from letters for other jobs. Wake the recruiter up in Paragraph #1 with an interesting, tailored, job- or organization-related story (see link on Disruptive Introductions). Tell about your experience with their product. Be impressed about a new project or an employer award. Highlight a match in values. Name drop an employee you met. Finish by stating your enthusiasm for the desired role (this has greater impact once you've created a context for your application).
In Paragraph #2, highlight how your experience and qualifications match the job description (see link on T-format Letters). Make it clear that this is what you are doing with a paragraph opening along the lines of, "Reviewing the job posting, I see an excellent match between the position requirements and my background and skills. To summarize:" Then bullet point where you see the matches:
- Bullet points: Pick out the 3-5 most important qualifications and skills listed in the job description where you are a strong match. Focus on deal-breakers (eg. degrees/certifications, years of experience, must-have skills). If you're missing something, don't draw attention to it; ignore it in your letter (but be ready to discuss it in an interview).
- Copy-and-paste: Copy the exact terms found in the job posting. Paste them in bold text at the beginning of each bullet. This ensures you’re including key words from the job posting but in a natural way, which helps you manoeuvre your application through electronic scanning and filtering. Bolded headers also make it easier for the recruiter to scan your letter quickly and still pull out the salient details.
- Give evidence for your qualifications and skills: For each bolded heading, summarize your qualifications, or describe past duties and achievements where you utilized the required skill. This provides clear evidence of your strength as a candidate. Be specific about job activities, and quantify duties and achievements wherever possible.
Be brief in ending your letter. Don’t be effusively thankful or appear desperate in any way. Be confident about meeting for an interview and restate your enthusiasm for the role and organization. If there are limits on your availability for contact, outline them. Proofread, proofread again, and sign off.
Now, in case you're still wondering how the ideas above play out in a real letter, here's a sample cover letter for a junior accounting role:
RE: Accounts Receivable Coordinator (Ref: 4732-08)
Dear Ms. Jones,
I recently had an appointment at your Chumir Medical Centre office, and was impressed with the level of customer service and care. I was treated politely by your receptionists and testing staff, and noticed a strong sense of team play between them. From this experience, I gained an impression that Calgary Lab Services would be a positive place to work; I was thus excited to find your job posting for an Accounts Receivable Coordinator on the Indeed.ca website this morning, and am enthusiastic about submitting my application for the position.
Reviewing the job posting, I see an excellent match between the position requirements and my background and skills. To summarize:
- One year’s accounts receivable experience: I have been in my current role with Zeta Logistics for almost a year, with responsibility for monthly receivables of $3 million. In my previous position with Omega Construction, I oversaw monthly payables totaling $750,000.
- Intermediate or higher skills in Microsoft Office: Two years ago I completed an intensive MS Office program, including advanced Word, Excel and Access. I use Excel, Word and Outlook intensively in my current role.
- Organized team player: In my position with Zeta Logistics, I work on a team of 4 accounting clerks supporting 3 senior accountants and the Accounting Manager, with sharing of projects and regular update meetings to ensure all work is completed accurately while meeting strict deadlines.
I look forward to meeting with you in an interview to discuss my experience and skills, and how I can contribute to accounting excellence and teamwork with Calgary Lab Services. I tend to be busy and thus unavailable to receive phone calls in the mornings, so you will find me easiest to reach between 1:30 and 4:30 pm on weekdays.
I'm not a fan of templates, but have seen the above letter structure work countless times. That said, every rule is made to be broken. Unusual career circumstances may require adding a paragraph of explanation (perhaps between the intro and the skills match). Executives might go over the one-page suggested length with more depth and detail. In most cases though, the 3-paragrapher as described will engage your reader, sell you effectively, and improve the odds of landing an interview.
I hope this post helps you improve YOUR cover letters.
This article was originally posted on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/cover-letter-gets-interviews-eric-pye/