Heard on the street: “Should I include a cover letter with my online application?” “Will you read my cover letter to be sure it is right?” “Is my cover letter holding me back?”
I get these questions a lot. The answer is… it depends. It is hard to give a straight answer because different people involved in the hiring process have different values. Provide each audience with information in the way they prefer or you risk being ignored.
First a rant. If you are a job seeker at a professional level, why are you spending so much time submitting applications to posted jobs? The odds are pretty low that no one even reads your resume or cover letter when you respond to an ad, so why are you so worried?
Ok, I got that out of my system. Now let’s consider cover letters.
A cover letter should humanize you. It should concisely tell your story – making you more than just another application. This is a great place to give an overview, explain a career change, talk about your passion, or how you can solve their problem.
Be brief. A good cover letter is one page with about three or four paragraphs divided as follows:
- Paragraph One – Introduction. Place yourself in context. “This is in reference to XXX posting in such and such journal regarding a Process Improvement Engineer for ABC Company.”
- Paragraphs Two and Three – Context. Tie your background to the posting and highlight important context to your story. This is the humanizing part. Keep it brief. Just a few sentences that highlight the two or three things you want them to know about your background.
- Paragraph Four – The Close. Say why you should have the job and when you will follow up: “I have the demonstrated skills and abilities to do a great job for ABC Company. I will follow up to schedule a time to talk next Thursday. I am excited to get started.”
Create a template built around your ideal job. Then you can customize quickly to highlight details that support an individual posting.
Personalize your letterhead with your brand. Even though cover letters are electronic these days, take a moment to create a mini-letterhead with your contact information at the top. Use colors and styles (font and bullet style) that are consistent with your business cards (you’ve got those, right?) and resume. I worked with a client who was a big Michigan State booster. His resume and business cards had Spartan Green highlights. We put that same color in his cover letter letterhead and in a marketing brochure we created.
Do some research. Best practice should be to send the cover letter and resume to a real person. That increases the chances someone will read it. It takes a bit of research to figure out who is the right person but this research is the start of networking, a much more effective job search method.
Be prepared to follow up. When someone sent me a resume with a cover letter that said they would be calling, I did everything in my power to keep that resume close at hand so I wouldn’t look silly when the person called. Most people never call. So if you find a name and say you will call, then call! You will have the upper hand.