Like dog is to man, your cover letter is your resume’s best friend, and it is crucial to getting your foot in the door. Simply put, a cover letter – especially one that is well-written and attention-grabbing – massively increases your chances of getting called in for an interview and even snagging your dream job.
Unfortunately, as with its cousin, the resume, writing a powerful cover letter is easier said than done. Thankfully for you, the job seeker, we’ve compiled a list of seven answers to the most commonly asked cover letter questions to help you succeed in your job search.
1. Do Employers Really Read Cover Letters?
Simply put: some do, and some don’t. Various surveys suggest that only half of employers actually read applicants’ cover letters and that they will only spend 5 to 10 seconds scanning the ones they do. But, that’s really not the point here. It’s generally believed that only a third of job seekers use a cover letter in their job hunting efforts, meaning that just by sending one out with your resume instantly makes you stand out from the crowd. The bottom line is that you should write a cover letter in case the employers and recruiters read them.
2. How Should I Format My Cover Letter?
Thankfully, formatting your cover letter isn’t as hard as formatting your resume. Generally speaking, your cover letter should only be one page long, but feel free to use two pages if – and only if – the information you are providing is vital to favorably present yourself to potential employers. Otherwise, edit and cut your cover letter to one page – unless you’re a career changer, a senior executive, or a scientist who typically use two-page cover letters.
Regarding layout, the first paragraph should be used to introduce yourself to your potential employer; followed by up to three body paragraphs in which you highlight relevant achievements and explain why you’re the right person for the job (however, do make sure your cover letter isn’t a word-for-word recap of your resume). The last paragraph should sum up your points and thank the reader for their time and consideration.
If you’re sending out your resume the old-fashioned way, make sure your cover letter is set up like any other business letter, so starting with the recruiter’s contact information is a must. Meanwhile, when e-mailing your resume, you can simply include your cover letter’s text in the body of the e-mail itself.
3. What Common Mistakes Should I Be Aware Of?
Sometimes, even the tiniest mistake can be disastrous for your job search, hence, why we’re so adamant about proofreading this important document that can either make or break your chances of landing your dream job. Typos and grammar errors are, naturally, the first things you need to look out for, and another fatal mistake you can make on your cover letter is not addressing it to an actual person.
If you’re not sure who exactly you’re contacting, visit the company’s website where you’re bound to uncover a HR manager’s name, and only ever use generic salutations like “Dear Sir/Madam” and “To Whom It May Concern” as a last resort. Also, make sure you can back your claims up for being awesome, don’t lie (you will get caught one way or another) and, whatever you do, don’t list your references here or on your resume (recruiters will ask you for them when they’re ready).
4. What Should I Include in My Cover Letter and What Should I Leave Out?
Just like writing a resume, certain information should be left off your cover letter (like your age, religious views, and marital status, especially if they’re not relevant to the job you’re applying to) as including such personal information might expose you to potential discrimination.
Your cover letter should present your relevant work history, qualifications, and educational background while explaining why you’re the ideal candidate for the job; like your resume, your cover letter is a marketing tool to sell yourself to potential employers. But, unlike your resume, a cover letter allows you to add a personal element to an otherwise formal document – just be careful you’re not too informal.
5. Should I Include Salary Information?
Recruiters are divided into two camps here. One camp believes that you should supply your salary information or salary requirements, especially if the job advertisement you’re responding to requires it because they might not even look at your cover letter and resume if you don’t as you’ll appear unresponsive and impolite.
The other camp believes that supplying that information, especially when it wasn’t asked for, only gives recruiters ammunition to screen you out, and that most companies will still invite you in for an interview even if you haven’t provided them with your salary history. There’s no right or wrong answer here, so consider both perspectives and decide what makes sense to you.
6. How Can I Increase the Impact of My Cover Letter?
Just like your resume, you need to make your cover letter stands out from the crowd if you want to snag the job. The one-size-fits-all type of cover letter will simply not work and will end up getting thrown out, so it’s essential that you customize your cover letter to the job you’re applying for. If, for example, the advertisement requires a developer with Java experience, make sure that you highlight your expertise in that area in your cover letter, and that you show you are qualified for the job they’re offering.
Moreover, avoid using the generic opening we’re so used to seeing (“In response to job advertisement #7948, I’m forwarding my resume for your consideration…;”) and instead opt for something a little more creative that will grab the reader’s attention right from the start – for example, “I spent my childhood in the cheap seats at Knicks games, and my passion for basketball helped me shape my career in sports marketing – which is what led me to apply for this job with the New York Knicks.”
7. Who Can I Get to Proofread My Cover Letter?
Proofreading your cover letter and accompanying resume for errors and typos is essential for a successful job application. While taking it upon yourself to proofread, proofread, and proofread (and then proofread some more) your cover letter is correct, it’s generally good practice to reach out for a second opinion and ask a trusted friend to review it for you, too. After all, they might be able to spot something you missed that could be potentially damaging to your chances of landing your dream job. But, proofreading is a skill that not everyone possesses, so you might want to consider seeking out professional help – it will set you back a buck or two, but we guarantee it will pay dividends.
Do you have any other questions regarding cover letters that need to be answered? Ask away in the comments section below! Meanwhile, don’t forget to share this article with any family and friends who are struggling to craft their own cover letter!