Before getting into what should or shouldn't be on your cover letter, let's just get out of the way that a cover letter is a must. Why? Well, the answer is pretty simple.
The cover letter gives you the chance to express that you're a professional and that you have the skills, expertise, and passion the employer is seeking in an ideal job candidate. 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 needs.
Writing a cover letter is particularly important if your resume raises red flags when reviewed on its own. Things like a lengthy period of unemployment, smaller job gaps, 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 Your Cover Letter
Like the resume, your cover letter needs to be customized and speak directly to the employer's needs. 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.
The best way to customize your cover letter is to go all in and write a disruptive cover. Speak of your knowledge in the business, what you know about that employer, why you're passionate about their mission, product, or service, and how your experience and skills can help the employer reach their goals. Provide highlights from your resume and how you can apply what you learned in past positions to the job you're looking to land at their organization.
Basically, if the employer can feel your excitement through the cover letter, and is impressed by the story you tell, you'll be one of the first job candidates they contact to learn more.
2. You Left Important Questions Unanswered
There are some things on your resume that may raise a red flag, and if they go unexplained, the hiring manager will not take a chance on you. They'll 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. Tell that story in your disruptive cover letter.
Also, your disruptive cover letter should begin to answer some of the questions the employer will want to find out for sure if you come in for a job interview. Some of those questions include:
- Can you save or make the company money?
- Are you passionate about what we do?
- Will you stay with the company long enough for us to see a return on investment from hiring you as an employee?
- Do you want to grow as a professional at the company?
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.
Let's be honest: if you really care about getting the job you're applying for, you'll proofread your cover letter and resume multiple times. If you don't seem inclined to proofread all of your career materials before sending in your application, the job probably isn't the right one for you.
Nevertheless, make sure you proofread your cover letter. When in doubt, have a trusted friend look it over, too!
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, 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.
While writing your cover letter, follow any directions the employer has on the job posting. Same goes for when you send it out. Even if your cover letter is amazing, not following the directions can hurt your chances of landing an interview!
Your cover letter is the best opportunity for you to stand out to employers early on in the hiring process, so take the time to write one that is polished and speaks directly to the employer's needs. Whatever you do, avoid the red flags above!
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This post was originally published at an earlier date.