If you are reading this, you are probably at that point where there is a promising job advertised and you have to submit your résumé along with a cover letter before you can be considered.

If you are anything like most people, you are probably wondering why you have to write the cover letter in the first place. Does anybody ever read them anyway?

Let me ask you this:

Have you ever been on a blind date?

It can be pretty tough on the nerves, right?

You are there in your finest attire and in your best behavior across the table from someone you know absolutely nothing about.

If all goes well, the two of you will hit it off. You both have a wonderful time, and you are genuinely happy to do it again. You exchange contact details and you both look forward to the next time you will be together. However, that’s not a guarantee.

You could also find that you have absolutely nothing in common with your date, hence the few minutes you’ll be together are full of awkward moments as each one of you tries to see things in the other’s perspective. You are both anxious the whole time and can’t wait for the evening to end.

Now, imagine if you had a cheat sheet before going for that date.

Something with details about the person you are going to meet, what they like, what they enjoy doing and basically the things that make them who they are.

Wouldn’t it help ease the tension and the awkwardness during the date as you try to find common ground?

Now imagine if you had this cheat sheet, and you could use it to decide whether to go for that date or not. Wouldn’t it be even better?

In the corporate world, interviews are just like blind dates.

Employers meet with potential employees and try to gather enough information about them that will help them decide if they’ll be a good fit for the open position. Employees on the other hand, use them to try and find out whether or not working for the employer will be a good idea.

However, this time, both parties have those little cheat sheets and they do their screenings to decide whether to have the interview or not.

For the potential employees, the cheat sheet is in the job description.

For the hiring managers, it is in the potential employees’ résumé and cover letters.

Since the résumé is more of an outline of your experience and qualifications, it is the cover letter that will show your employers who you really are as a person. It is the introduction that will help the hiring managers decide whether they would like to meet you or not.

So yes, interviewers do read cover letters. In fact, for some hiring managers they form the most important part of your application. Besides, how else would you get an opportunity to introduce yourself to your prospective employer and tell them why they should consider you for the open position?

You may be the most promising candidate on the list of applicants, but if your cover letter makes you look unoriginal, your chances of getting an invite to the face to face interview are very slim.

On the flip side, an invitation to the face to face interview because of a good cover letter can give you a fighting chance even if you are not the most qualified candidate on the list.

Writing a good cover letter may seem easy in theory. Use good grammar, highlight your strengths, show how you are a good fit for their pain points, etc. However, when it comes to the actual writing, things can get a bet difficult.

How do you talk about your personality, skills and experience in a few paragraphs? What information should you include and what should you omit? What tone should you use?

When faced with these challenges, don’t make the mistake of sending a generic cover letter downloaded from the internet and full of clichés.

The good news is that writing a good cover letter doesn’t have to be difficult. With a few guidelines, you can craft the cover letter that will get your application above the other candidates and make the hiring manager want to meet you.

But before we get to that, here’s a question common among job applicants.

SHOULD YOU ALWAYS SEND A COVER LETTER?

Some job advertisements will ask you to send your application to the hiring manager without telling you what exactly to include in the application. Others will simply ask for your résumé while others will tell you to send a cover letter and a résumé.

Here are four reasons why you should always send a cover letter.

  1. A cover letter helps you establish rapport with your prospective employer. You get to tell them about the person behind the academic qualifications and work experience.
  2. It gives you a chance to reveal your personality so the hiring manager can get a better idea of your abilities and picture you in the position.
  3. A cover letter is a very important marketing tool that will help you deliver your value proposition.
  4. You get a chance to tell a story. This is the place to include information that doesn’t fit in a résumé. For example, you can easily speak about a career change and use it to your advantage on a cover letter.

WHEN NOT TO SEND A COVER LETTER

With all the benefits that come with sending a cover letter, are there times when you can get away without one?

We could only find two circumstances:

  1. When the employer specifically indicates that you should not send a cover letter (It could be a test to see how good you are at following instructions)
  2. When the application is done in an online platform with no provision for uploading a cover letter

Although the process of writing a cover letter is time consuming, it could give you an edge over the other applicants and help you land more interviews.

THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW BEFORE YOU SIT DOWN TO WRITE YOUR COVER LETTER

Now that we know how important your cover letter is, let’s take a look at some of the things that you need to know before writing it.

  • What is a cover letter? A cover letter is a short, one page letter that should be sent send alongside your résumé in every job application you make.
  • Why do I need a cover letter? Although a good résumé has all the information about your skills, accomplishments and basically what you can do, it does not do a very good job showing them who you are. This is what the cover letter will do. It’s your chance to reveal your personality and stand out from the other skilled and experienced candidates.
  • What information should be in a cover letter? The rule of the thumb here is to include information that makes you unique. Something that gives the reader information that will not be found on your résumé. However, this information needs to be positive. Don’t go out there highlighting the biggest failures in your life.
  • Not all cover letters are the same. Your cover letter could be a cold call asking for employment, it could be a response to a job posting or it could be a response to a recruiter’s advertisement. Each of these cover letters need to be worded differently so don’t send the same old cover letter to all employers changing only the company name.

VITAL ELEMENTS EVERY COVER LETTER SHOULD HAVE

Someone once said that if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well. So if you are going to include that cover letter in your application, then it must have these elements:

Proof that you did your homework

Before any position is advertised, there has to be a vacuum that needs filling in the company. Otherwise they wouldn’t go through the trouble of hiring.

With this in mind, it is your duty to find out what vacuum needs filling in the organization. Try to find out exactly why they are hiring so that you can identify the kind of person they are looking for. Sometimes, there is enough information about this on the requirements on the job posting. Other times, you will have to dig deeper.

You can also look for information about the company that most people don’t have. Feel free to flatter your potential employer by highlighting an achievement that the company has made in the past. You get bonus points if the achievement touches the position that you are hoping to fill.

Proof that you fit the bill

After you have made it clear that you understand what your prospective employer is looking for, the next step is to prove to them that you are the ideal candidate for their needs. Explain to them what you can do for the company in this role based on your skills, academic qualifications and work experience.

One approach that is very effective in doing this is drafting a letter known as the “T-Letter”. Like the name suggests, this letter does not follow the conventional design where you explain your qualifications using short blocks of text. Here’s how to do it:

The body of this letter is comprised of the following three parts:

  1. A short introduction telling them who you are and how you heard about the position.
  2. Two columns of text in a table-like structure. The left column should have the heading “Your Requirements” and the one on the right should have the heading “My Requirements”. Use the exact words used in their job posting and show them on the “My Requirements” column why your skills, education and experience match the requirements.
  3. A short paragraph thanking them and asking for a response.

The layout is bold and aggressive, but it is also uncommon so it can easily set you apart from the competition. It also shows them that you thought about their needs and how they can be solved by your abilities.

Your passion about the job

If there is one thing that is very attractive to recruiters, it is passion. Somebody passionate is always the best bet in filling the position. The reason for this is simple – you don’t want to hire somebody who will need pushing before doing any job you give them.

The best way to do this is showing that you are happy to have stumbled across the job posting and that you are excited about the position.

For example, if it is an accounting position, you can say something like this: “Ever since I was a small child, I have always been a numbers person. I remember representing my school and winning trophies countless times in math contests. When working with numbers, I feel like I’m in a world of my own. This passion shows in my results because it enables me to see the finest details.” Then you can go ahead and list some of your achievements.

However you decide to do it, make sure that they see that you will be highly motivated and pumped when going about your duties.

HOW TO MAKE YOUR COVER LETTER STAND OUT

Now that we know what to include in your cover letter, let’s look at some tips that will score you some points with recruiters.

It’s not about what the company can do for you

No matter how much you need that job, talking about how happy you’ll be if they accept you for the position is not going to help you. They already know that you need the job. What they are more interested in, is knowing what you have that can benefit the company. So tell them about what you will be bringing to the table.

Don’t apologize for skills that you lack

You might find yourself in a situation where you don’t meet all the requirements listed in the job posting. Don’t say something like “Despite my limited experience with product development…” Instead, choose to focus on your strengths. Talk about the areas where you thrive and show them your enthusiasm for the job.

Use numbers to talk about your past experiences

Were you able to double your department’s sales in your old company? Put it there. Were you able to introduce a number of new products to the market? Tell them how many. Numbers show potential employers that you can deliver results. And that’s all they are seeking.

Be open to different formats

Just because it’s called a cover letter doesn’t mean that it has to follow the plain old structure that’s found on most cover letters. You can always try new formats if they are relevant for the position. You can do anything from the “T-Letter” mentioned above to something more dramatic like a video or bullet points in your cover letter. The important thing here is not to overdo.

Make sure it is something your recruiters will deem fit. A graphic designer can add media to her cover letter and be deemed as smart and creative. For an accountant applying to a more traditional company, media won’t work. The goal is to create something unique enough to get your recruiters to think “This guy really gets it!”

Be yourself

Be honest and genuine in your writing. You don’t want to create a picture of someone you are not. It could get you to the interview, but it won’t give you the job.

Mirror your company’s voice

Spend some time on the company’s website and try to understand the things they value most. Read as much of the text there to get a sense of their language, tone and culture then mirror this in your cover letter.

Have someone look at it

Once you are done with your cover letter, it’s always a good idea to have a friend look at it. Ask if it gets them excited while selling you as the best candidate for the position. If these two objectives are not accomplished, revisit the cover letter.

Keep it brief and clear

Recruiters receive hundreds and sometimes thousands of cover letters that are supposed to be read. With more than a hundred cover letters to read, wouldn’t you want them to be short and sweet? In the same way, your recruiters want to save time so don’t beat around the bush.

Address the hiring manager by name

Words like “To Whom it May Concern” or “Dear Sir/Madam” will sound very generic. So dig up and try to find the hiring manager’s name and include it in the cover letter. Be sure to properly address them e.g. “Dear Mr. John Doe” or “Dear Ms. Jane Doe”.

Do more than just telling them why you are qualified

Anybody can come up with reasons why they think they are qualified for a position. Your recruiter needs to be sure that you can actually do what you say you can. The best way to convince them? Illustrate. Tell a story of how you helped solve a problem in your previous workplace.

Don’t repeat your résume

There is a reason why you were asked to send your résumé and cover letter. Your cover letter should have information that you won’t find on your résumé. Use it to reveal your personality. Be as creative as possible. The main goal here is to stand out while being yourself.

You will never bore someone into hiring you

Do I need to explain this?

SAMPLE COVER LETTERS

Let’s finish off by looking at two sample cover letters.

Sample 1

John Doe,

32 Railway Street,

Pasadena, CA 32456.

[Phone Number]

[Date]

Mr. Andrew Smith,

Human Resources Manager,

ABC Company,

65 Regent Street.

Pasadena, CA 32456.

RE: Sales Manager Opening at ABC

Dear Mr. Smith,

I was excited to read about your opening for a sales manager, and I hope to be invited for an interview.

Ever since my days in college, I’ve lived my life around one simple principle: Get better every day. I’m that person who is always looking for ways to improve inefficient processes. My desire to work smarter makes me strive to find ways of boosting the productivity of everyone working around me.

This mindset has earned me three promotions in my current company and I hope to put it to good use at ABC. Last December, I kicked ABC’s top salesman from his position and he hasn’t seen it ever since. I believe I’m now ready for my next big challenge and I think the sales manager position at ABC might just be it.

I’m thrilled to think that there is a possibility of me being a part of ABC’s sales team and would love the opportunity to meet and talk about the value that I can bring aboard. Thanks for your time and looking forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

John Doe.

 

Sample 2

Jane Doe,

32 Railway Street,

Pasadena, CA 32456.

[Phone Number]

[Date] NJYTH

Mr. Andrew Smith,

Human Resources Manager,

ABC Company,

65 Regent Street.

Pasadena, CA 32456.

RE: Makeup Stylist Opening at ABC News

Dear Mr. Smith,

It is with great enthusiasm that I would like to submit my application for the Makeup Stylist position at ABC News. As you can see from my resume, I have more than 10 years’ experience as a personal stylist, hence I have no doubt that my capabilities will meet and exceed the expectations for this position.

I have been giving my family and friends free style advice since I was 10, so you can imagine how excited I was when I read about the Makeup Stylist Position at ABC. In my current role as a personal stylist for DEF Marketing, it has been my duty to prepare every single one of models before they hit the set.

I have worked with both male and female models for both casual and formal settings so you can be sure that I will be able to make the news anchors at ABC News shine in front of the cameras.

Thank you for your consideration. I look forward to meeting with you soon.

Best Regards,

Jane Doe.