I’m not going to be the Career Coach who tells you that cover letters are the best thing ever and you have to send one off to everyone. No way! Not me! I am going to teach you how to write a cover letter – while we both just admit right now that cover letters suck.
Why Do Covers Letters Suck?
The simple fact is that most applicants don’t write a great letter. Someone way back when decided that to apply for a job, the cover letter should be bland and generic. Then someone told applicants the cover letter should be unique, engaging, special, over the top, sales-y. What that conflicting advice resulted in, was a letter that is either so boring a recruiter doesn’t bother reading it, or so over the top that the reader questions the abilities and sanity of the applicant.
Does Anyone Read Cover Letters?
Yes and no. When I was recruiting I would simply skip the cover letter and read the resume. If I liked what I saw in the resume, I would go back and read the cover letter. If the cover letter spoke to me in some way, I would definitely reach out. If the cover letter was generic or did not match the job, more than likely that candidate got passed over. If the resume was bad, I never made it to the cover letter in the first place.
If you Google “Does Anyone Read Cover Letters,” it’s a little bleaker than when I ran my desk. It’s an individual choice for recruiters, and some companies do not even require them any more. The general take is that recruiters are not opening the attachments or even reading the letters.
That said, there is one person in the hiring panel that almost always reads the cover letter, and they are important!
Who Do You Write a Cover Letter For?
We write cover letters for hiring managers, small business owners, and those who are in lower volume hiring situations. We don’t write them for recruiters or applicant tracking systems. I also want to qualify that there are some jobs where your cover letter and proof of your writing skills are essential: teaching, sales, public relations, marketing, and anything that is media or communication based. The application process for these jobs often includes writing samples and they responses are heavily weighted taking the writing portion into account.
That brings us back to the topic at hand:
How to Write a Cover Letter
Prep & Research
- Research the company, current employees, press, and anything else you can find online about the company and position that you are applying for. The 30 – 45 minutes you spend on this task will make all the difference in your final draft.
- Keep it short! Do not write more than 3/4 of a page. No one has time to read more in a hiring cycle.
- Please try to find the name of a real person to address your letter to. If you can’t…
- In your salutation either use: To Whom It May Concern, or Dear Human Resources, or Dear Hiring Manager
- In the first paragraph, identify where you found the position, was it an ad, their website, a referral etc. This may not seem like it matters, but it does, especially if you are a referral.
- If you were referred by someone, make sure to name them (with their permission) in the opening of the letter.
- In the second paragraph, set up why you are interested, and why you may be a good fit for the role. The good fit part does not come from pointing them to your resume, but it comes from telling a story that is not on your resume about a project or situation that gives you the skills or knowledge to do the job. The only way you will know what a good story is, is to research the company, the job description, and use linked in to find someone currently in the role (see item #1)
- Do not repeat what is on your resume. Do not say things like, as you will see on my resume, in the body of the letter.
- The Third paragraph can be a continuation of the second.
- The Fourth paragraph should be your conclusion to why you are a good fit. Again, it does not point them to things on your resume, but it is a sums up the persuasive arguments in your second and third paragraphs.
- Thank them for their time and review of your application.
- Sign the letter with Sincerely.
- Use a standard business format with letter blocks, ensure the letter is vertically centered on the page.
- Do not use extreme formatting or color.
- Make sure that you use the same font as your resume. I generally suggest that you use a sans serif font like Calibri in 11 point.
- An old proof reading trick I use is to read a document backwards. It makes you slow down and catch all kinds of errors in your writing. (Sometimes I forget to do it when I blog…)
- Have someone read it for you and help with the editing.
Attachment or eMail Body?
This is something you definitely want to think about. Do you have the direct email address of the hiring manager or recruiter? Do you have a generic email box you are responding to vs. applying online?
If you are sending a direct email, DO NOT PUT YOUR COVER LETTER AS AN ATTACHMENT! The body of your email is your cover letter. There is no need to have a second attachment.
Given the choice, the only document that gets opened is your resume. That’s it.
Now, you get writing. I know it’s tough, but the best cover letter is going to come from you and it will need to written for each position you apply for. No generic cover letter where you change a few things in the first paragraph is going to help you stand out.
The last bit of “best advice” I can give you is, just get writing. Start your internet research with a pad right next to you and jot down anything that is interesting. People, products, press… whatever stands out where you have a connection, that is what you write about.
Just. Start. Writing!
KDB Coaching can be hired to write your resume or Linked In profile, but when it comes to cover letters, the only way these work is for it come from your heart, your passion, and your interest. We are more than happy to offer editing and support, but the next great cover letter can only come from you.
Still Need More Ideas On How to Write A Cover Letter?
If you need more persuasion, here are some of the best cover letter blogs I’ve come across and continue to suggest in my talks and coaching sessions:
- From The Muse, before and after examples
- Conservative, Speculative, and Creative Examples
- If you need a laugh at this point, try this one from Forbes re: Wall Street Applicants
- Minus the F-Bombs, this one certainly stood out for the COO of Squarespace