Do you really need a cover letter to go along with your résumé? People ask me this question a lot. While a LinkedIn profile and a résumé are still necessary when applying for a job, it’s not always clear if a cover letter is necessary.
When to include a cover letter
Here’s a simple rule to keep in mind: always show you can follow instructions by providing what the job ad asks for. If a job ad says to send a cover letter along with your résumé, then do so. If it doesn’t, you don’t have to.
But if including a cover letter is optional, keep the following things in mind:
1) It’s likely hiring managers and recruiters won’t read your cover letter. Especially if you’re applying for a job that doesn’t require you to have strong writing skills. Recruiters don’t have the time to read through both cover letters and résumés, even after they’re stack has been narrowed down with résumé filtering software.
2) If you’re applying for a job that requires strong writing skills, it’s a good idea to include a cover letter. Hiring managers may use it as a writing sample to see how well you write. This is why you really need to write your cover letter yourself.
You may save yourself some time in the short run by getting someone else to write your cover letter for you. But it could hurt you in the long run. This could be seen as misrepresenting yourself. In fact, I know professional résumé writers who refuse to write cover letters for this reason.
10 tips for a good cover letter
If and when you need to include a cover letter with your résumé, you’ll want to follow these general tips:
- Include your name and contact info in the same format as you have on your résumé.
- Include the company’s name and contact info after the date.
- Always try to get a name and title of an actual person to address your letter to. If you can’t find one, then use “Dear hiring manager” or “Dear Sir or Madam” as your greeting. Never use “To whom it may concern.”
- Always end your greeting with a colon, not a comma, since a cover letter is a business letter and not a personal letter. Using a comma instead of a colon is the most common mistake I see on cover letters.
- In the first paragraph, state your interest in the job and how you heard about it. This helps the company identify which job advertising methods are working best for them.
- In the second paragraph, briefly state how your experience matches up with the job requirements. Site a specific example of something you’ve accomplished in a past job that exemplifies how you can contribute in this job similarly.
- In the third and final paragraph, be assertive and ask for the interview. Do this by indicating you’re interest in the opportunity to further discuss your qualifications. Include the best and easiest way to reach you.
- Avoid phrases like “I think,” “I feel,” or “I believe” when describing your skills and strengths. These phrases make you sound like you’re not confident. Simply state what you know you can bring to the table.
- Keep it brief. This is not the time to repeat your résumé in paragraph form. Make your cover letter as concise and easy to read as possible. If your writing is wordy, try to say the same thing in fewer words.
- Don’t send out the same cover letter to every job. You’ll need to change a few things to personalize it to the company or position. When doing this, be careful with copying and pasting. You don’t want to make a mistake, like not changing the company name in the middle of your last paragraph. Avoiding mistakes like this will require more focused and more frequent proofreading.
While you should always write your cover letter yourself, you can have it critiqued by paNASH. This is one of several services included in the “Career Passion” coaching track.
In addition to tips for writing cover letters, you can get numerous tips on résumé writing from the following resources:
- Free video: What NOT to Share on Your Résumé
- E-book: Get Your Résumé Read ($4.99)
- On-demand course: Résumés That Get You the Interview: Surprising Secrets to Getting Your Résumé Read ($87) Includes a free copy of the e-book, 5 lessons, and 10 résumé samples and downloads.