Before getting into what should or shouldn’t be on the cover letter, let’s just get out of the way that a cover letter is a must.
The cover letter gives you the chance to express that you’re a professional and that you have the skills the employer is seeking. When you don’t send a cover letter with your resume, it can be interpreted as you’re not that serious about the job – that it’s not even worth your time and effort to include a greeting that will put your information in context to the employer’s need.
The cover letter is particularly important if your resume raises red flags when reviewed on its own. Things like a lengthy period of unemployment or no specialized training for a job that requires it needs some explaining to alleviate concern.
So, here’s what you need to be watchful of in your cover letter so that it works effectively with your resume.
1. You didn’t customize.
Like the resume, your cover letter needs to be customized and speak directly to the employer’s need. It shouldn’t simply say, “I’m interested in the job and here’s my resume for review.” If you’re going to do that, then it’s the same as not sending a cover letter at all. Speak of your knowledge in the business, what you know about that employer, and how your experience and skills can contribute to the employer – provide highlights from your resume.
2. You left important questions unanswered.
Clearly, there are some things on the resume that may raise a red flag and if they go unexplained, the hiring manager will not take a chance on you, but just move on to the next candidate. Consider things like periods of unemployment, lack of degree or certification, frequent job changes, or a change in direction of career that may require more information. The point is not to over-explain, but to touch on the subject in short to offer reason that will alleviate potential concern. For example, you may have taken a year off from work to care for a newborn or sick parent.
3. You didn’t proofread.
Your cover letter is a reflection of your professionalism. If it’s filled with misspellings or poor grammar, the employer will be left to believe you are careless – a direct reflection of how you may perform on the job.
4. You didn’t follow directions.
Many employers will leave specific directions in the job posting for applicants to follow. It can be as simple as including XYZ in the subject line when your email message is serving as the cover letter, to including your salary requirement or providing an answer to a question. Since many employers get more applicants than they need, any one applicant who fails to follow directions is an automatic strike out.
The cover letter is another opportunity to promote and share your qualifications, so take the time to produce one that is polished and speaks directly to the employer’s need as well as addresses specific requests.
About the author
Don Goodman’s firm was rated as the #1 Resume Writing Service in 2013, 2014, and 2015. Don is a triple-certified, nationally recognized Expert Resume Writer, Career Management Coach and Job Search Strategist who has helped thousands of people secure their next job. Check out his Resume Writing Service. Get a Free Resume Evaluation or call him at 800.909.0109 for more information.
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