It may be the era of texting, multitasking and communicating in 140 characters or less, but when it comes to finding a job, cover letters still matter. Long gone are the days when you would send a recruiter or hiring manager a cover letter and resume in the mail, but even though the medium of communications has changed, the etiquette has stayed the same.
“Every resume should be accompanied by a cover letter whether it’s required for the application or not,” says Tom Gimbel, president and chief executive of LaSalle Network, a Chicago staffing company. “Cover letters are a hiring manager’s first impression of the job seeker. It’s an opportunity for the job seeker to convince the employer that they are qualified and should be brought in for an interview.”
How you craft your cover letter also matters and matters a lot, especially in a competitive market where employers are sifting through hundreds of cover letters and resumes. Recruiters and hiring managers will know in seconds if the cover letter is generic and will often skip those and ones that are too long-winded. Because of that, career experts say brevity but not laziness is your best friend, at least when writing a cover letter.
“Don’t bore, confuse or alienate your reader by having too much information,” says Mark Jaffe, president of Wyatt & Jaffe, the executive search firm. “People make the mistake of putting what should go in the expertise or summary part of the resume in a cover letter.” According to Jaffe, job seekers are making a mistake if their cover letter includes more than alerting the hiring manager that the resume is attached, listing their job function and level and what industry they are in. “Nobody pays attention to anything for more than 2.5 seconds,” says Jaffe. “People wrongly think bombarding you with critical information prematurely is the way to mitigate that.”
Hand in hand with keeping it brief is creating a tailored cover letter that matches the job description of the position you are trying to land. Gimbel says job seekers should briefly explain in the cover letter how their past experience matches the skills needed for the current position. Gimbel also says to avoid repeating the job description in the cover letter. “A tailored cover letter is the difference between a lazy and motivated candidate. If a candidate can’t take an extra five minutes to draft a tailored, personalized cover letter, it shows the hiring manger that they are lazy and not fully interested in the position,” he says. “Job seekers that blast generic cover letters will continue to find themselves unemployed.”
Another big no-no: rehashing or repeating your resume in the cover letter. According to career experts, job seekers have to view the cover letter as a supplement to the resume and not simply a place to reiterate what they can read when they open up the attached resume. A way to do that says Gimbel is to avoid listing your day-to-day duties and instead highlight skills you used in prior jobs. “If you were a project manager then reiterate your leadership skills in the cover letter,” says Gimbel. “Or, if you were in a finance position, highlight your analytical skills. Don’t list out your day-to-day tasks.”
It also a good idea to personalize the cover letter instead of using the generic “To Whom It May Concern.” This may take a little company research on your part to find out who the hiring manager is or the person in charge of human resources but if you can find the right person to send it to it not only increases your chances of it being read but it also shows your resourcefulness.
For many job seekers one of the most confusing aspects of the cover letter is how they send it. Does it come as an attachment in an email or is it in the body of the email? Since hiring managers and recruiters are busy and often juggling multiple things at one time, career experts say it’s best to put the cover letter in the body of the email, granted the company isn’t requesting something else. “Many employers specify how they want you to submit your application,” says Alison Doyle, About.com guide to job searching. “You may be asked to send a cover letter attachment (typically a PDF or Word file) or upload your application materials to a company website or job site.”