When I ask employers about cover letters, about half say they want one. The rest don’t care, but say that it never hurts to attach one.
I advise to always include a cover letter:
- It sets you apart from other applicants
- It is another opportunity to sell your value
- It proves that you are, in fact, qualified for this position. If you cannot articulate why you are qualified, then chances are you are not, and you can save yourself and the employer time by dropping this position and finding one where you are better suited.
Cover letters do not need to be elaborate, nor difficult to complete. They should, however, be very specific to the position. And they should give this employer for this position a reason to want to meet you. Therefore, you should start with a blank page for each position.
Be creative and show your personality, but in very general terms:
1. Your name/contact information, which match your resume.
2. Today’s date, and the name/contact information for the company.
3. Address it to a specific person. This is part of the test. Ask your friends, family, and personal network if they know the hiring manager for the company. Look for it on LinkedIn. Ask your Career Developer. Call the company and ask the receptionist. If you have done all this and still strike out, then just start the letter. Do not address it, “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern.”
4. First line: What position you are applying for, and how you found out about it.
5. Second line: Why you are applying for this position. Balance your personal needs/desires with those of the company. Are you switching careers, or applying for a more entry-level position than for which you might be qualified? Or, are ready to resume your career in this industry with this company? Tell them why. Think, “If I was the employer, what would I want to know?” Then, tell them.
6. Next paragraph: How you are specifically qualified. You are already modifying your resume to meet the company’s stated qualifications, so you do not need to recopy your entire resume, but you should show at least the most important requirements. Sometimes, you can set up a grid with two columns: “Your Requirements” / “My Qualifications.” Or sometimes you just list out your qualifications. You also may want to add the little extra that makes you stand out from other applicants, Make the employer excited to meet you.
7. Last paragraph: Thank them for their consideration (professional, polite), that you look forward to discussing your qualifications in more detail (confident), and that you will follow in a week (proactive), “Regards,” and your full name. If you are hand delivering a printed copy, leave room for your signature.
It takes extra effort, but you will stand out. And in the competitive environment, you want to give yourself every opportunity to succeed.
Success doesn’t come to you. You go get it.