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What is a cover letter and why do I need one?
CareerBuilder | April 22, 2016
How can a cover letter help you stand out from the pack?
There always seems to be a lot of confusion surrounding the content and purpose of cover letters. Job seekers seem perpetually unsure about whether they should write one or not.
Granted, not all employers require candidates to include a cover letter with their application. But since when is going above and beyond a negative trait in a job candidate?
"Bottom line: no manager will rule out your application because you sent a cover letter. But some managers will rule out your application because you didn't," says Louise Fletcher, resume writer and president of Blue Sky Resumes. "Depending on which type of manager is hiring, it might never be read. But it also might be the clincher that gets you the interview."
A cover letter can be one of the most effective tools at a job seeker's disposal. And, as with any tool, it's better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Of course, the first step is understanding what a cover letter is for in the first place.
What's the point of a cover letter?
One of the biggest problems job seekers have with writing cover letters is figuring out exactly what they're supposed to include. Between an application form, a resume and a list of references, the employer already has plenty of information about you – or so it seems, anyway. So what could a cover letter possibly add?
"Don't look at a cover letter as just some other hoop you need to leap through in order to be considered for a job," says Alex Twersky, co-founder and vice president of career consulting firm Resume Deli. "Your cover letter, if written properly, provides a narrative opportunity to emphasize your grasp of the job's requirements and how your particular skills and accomplishments map to the job."
"Managers are looking for you to show that you understand their business and that you care about what they need," says Fletcher. "The cover letter is the only way of showing this, and that's why you need to write a strong, customized letter that directly addresses the company's needs."
A good cover letter is actually a lot more like an interview than a resume. It's your opportunity to become more than just data points on a hiring manager's checklist.
What makes a good cover letter?
Even after you're aware of why you need a cover letter, writing a really good one is not an easy task. Here are some things that can set yours apart:
- Adjusting your resume to best suit the position you're applying to is important, and it's even more crucial when it comes to cover letters. Research the company and take some time to consider how your skills and experience line up with their needs. Keep that in the back of your mind while writing your cover letter.
- Application forms and resumes tend to be pretty bland – but your cover letter doesn't have to be. "If you're going to send a boring, generic letter, there's no way for a hiring manager to get a sense of your communication style or personality," says Michele Mavi, director of internal recruiting and content development at Atrium Staffing. "Even worse, they may assume that your lack of originality means you're incapable of it, or at the very least, that the position isn't important enough to you to put any effort into your cover letter."
- Knowing your audience
- Inject some personality into your cover letter, but don't get carried away. Remember to keep it professional. "Whatever approach you take, be sure you understand the culture of the organization you're applying to and write with that voice in mind," says Mavi. "Companies aren't just looking for people with the right skills; they are looking for people with the right skills who fit into their culture as well."
- Demonstrating your skills
- "Don't just regurgitate your resume content in your cover letter," suggests Twersky. "Instead, figure out what business problems your reader is likely kvetching about, and then tell them -- right here in your cover letter -- how you would go about addressing them. This shows that you're thinking, and a true problem-solver."
Writing the perfect cover letter may be difficult, but it's not impossible. By following these simple guidelines, you'll be well on your way to submitting a cover letter that will set you apart from the crowd.
What kind of work can you do?
Search Jobs Support Center for more ideas.
Advice for your cover letter:
- Cover Letter tips to help you land your dream job
- Don't give away your entire story in the cover letter
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