Beyond the Resume: Why a Great Cover Letter is Essential

Resume Tips

You’ve probably been told over and over to keep your resume short, simple and to the point. But how does this let your potential employer know that you’re the perfect candidate? While you’re whittling your perfect resume down to achievements, awards and a brief summary, the passion that you might have for your career can also get cut away in the process. This is where the cover letter comes in. Your resume lists what you’ve done; your cover letter is a chance to say how you did it, and give your employer a glimpse at your personality, your work ethic, and your motivations. Here are a few key points you should note about cover letters.

1. You Need to Provide One

This might sound obvious, but according to comms professional Lauren Nelson, around 60% of applicants she has dealt with haven’t provided a cover letter. Even when she has asked for one specifically in the job posting. It’s expected, so unless a job posting specifically says not to include one, always include one.

2. Make Sure it’s Well Written

Spell check is your friend. Grammar check or apps such as Grammarly are your friend. Friends are your friend! Have another human being read through your letter before you send it. Preferably one who you know is good with grammar and professional language. The cover letter is potentially your opportunity to make a great first impression. If it’s poorly written, the recruitment team might not even get as far as your resume.

3. Make it Specific to the Role

If you have a template for cover letters, throw it away. Recruiters can always tell when you’ve used a template. A cover letter should explain why you want this role, specifically. It should be written from a place of motivation to get this job, not to get any job. Say why your skills make you the perfect candidate. Explain why you want this role, and what you will bring to it. Anyone can say they are motivated and work well as part of a team. You need to say why you will be the perfect member of this team, and why.

4. Research the Company

Most companies have core values that they work towards in all aspects of business. For example, outsourcing specialists Capita follow the values of open, ingenious, collaborative, and effective, focusing on honesty, transparency and delivering above and beyond expectations. If you can prove in your cover letter that your motivations or achievements match the core values of the company you are applying for, this will help your application stand head and shoulders above the crowd.

5. Use a Name

“Dear Sir/Madam.” “To whom it may concern.” “FAO Recruitment Team.” Just no. Find out who you are dealing with and write to them directly. Address them personally. You want to appear professional, and professionals take the time to learn names and pay respect. Above all, it shows that you’ve taken the time and care to get all the relevant information about the role and who else is involved. Imagine you got a response addressed to “Dear Candidate.” Exactly.

6. Avoid Negative Language

Sometimes we slip into negative language without realizing it. We start talking about things we would never do, or situations we’ve avoided. Instead, always talk about what you have done and what you have achieved. For example, instead of saying, “I never missed my sales target in five years,” say, “For five years, I exceeded my sales targets,” and then, ideally, give some facts and figures to back this up.

7. Don’t Apologize for Skills You Don’t Have

If you don’t meet all of the requirements of the job description, some job seekers will use lines like, “Even though I have limited experience with managing…” or “While I only have work experience doing administrative tasks…” Instead of drawing attention to weak points, focus on the skills you do have. According to career expert Lily Zhang, “Stay positive, focus on your strengths, and immediately launch into your transferable skills and infectious enthusiasm for the position.”

8. Avoid Overselling Yourself

Your cover letter should portray you as a skilled and qualified candidate, but don’t come across as cocky. It’s much more important that you show how the company will benefit from your experience and skill set. Steve Hassinger, career services director at Central Penn College, suggests rephrasing most of your sentences that begin with “I” to reflect the company instead. If you can frame your cover letter to address the needs of the company, Hassinger concludes it will show how you are a team player and strong candidate.

9. Use Numbers

When it comes to the job search, numbers often speak louder than words. Career expert and founder of ProfessionGal Megan Broussard suggests, “Offer stats to illustrate your impact on companies or associations you’ve worked for in the past. Employers love to see numbers—it shows them that you speak their language and that you understand what they’re looking for in an employee: results.” Instead of vague sentencing stating how you increased the bottom line, detail the specifics!

10. Finish on a High

“I look forward to hearing from you,” is the standard, go-to phrase, but it’s hardly inspiring. Try and put something a little more passionate in, but that fits in with the tone you’ve created throughout the letter. “I’m excited to join your team,” could work for you, or maybe, “Please call me on 01234567 for any further details,” as it makes you seem keen, approachable and professional. Whichever way you choose to end your cover letter, always get it checked before you send it, and pair it with a great resume for the best result.