A resume is obviously a crucial part of a job application. It highlights your previous job, key accomplishments, and education. But before you can get a potential employer to give your resume a close look, you have to impress them with your cover letter. A cover letter is important for a number of reasons, and it deserves as much careful attention as you give your resume.
Customize Your Cover Letter
Even if you are applying for a number of jobs that all seem the same, the companies are not the same. And, inevitably, each position—even if for the same job title—will have some different responsibilities or phrasing included in the job description. Your cover letter needs to reflect that you have read, and read carefully, the description for the job you are applying for.
You also need to customize your letter for the company that you are applying to. Is one of the positions you’re interested in with an environmentally conscious company? If that’s why the company caught your eye, mention that in the cover letter – and mention your volunteer work with a green organization here. If that’s not a part of another company’s mission or focus, don’t leave that in there. Find another hook about why you are applying there.
When it comes to cover letters, one size does not fit all, and a cover letter that speaks directly to the position and to the company that you are applying to will set you apart from the other applicants who have clearly just copied and pasted the same one over and over for multiple applications. A key giveaway that you’re copying and pasting? Using “To Whom It May Concern” as the greeting. If the name of the person to whom it should be addressed is in the job announcement, including it becomes crucially important to show that you really are paying attention and have an interest in the position. If there is not a name listed, do your extra research and show the company that you cared enough to look at their website and find the contact name. With Google, it’s pretty easy to find the name of a human resources manager or other supervisors of a company department that you should address a cover letter to. Start with this simple step, and you’ll already be ahead of the game when it comes to your cover letter.
It’s time-consuming to customize cover letters, but when you land the job you want, it will have paid off.
Make It Unique
No, I’m not talking about adding stickers or glitter to make your cover letter unique. I’m talking about making it unique from your resume. Your cover letter offers you an additional opportunity to discuss your qualifications and your interest in the position. Use the cover letter to point out some of your major accomplishments and how they apply to the position you are applying for. You won’t be able to fit all of your accomplishments, or even skills, on your resume, so use the cover letter to point out the most important and catch the hiring manager’s attention. In doing so, you will be encouraging them to take a closer look at your resume.
If your cover letter says exactly the same thing as your resume, then you are wasting an opportunity to share more information that could help secure your chances at landing a job.
Find more on what should a cover letter include here.
Focus on the Company
While you are laying out your skills and your past experience, always link back to how they can help the company you are applying to. In your resume, you will just be listing out what you have done. It is in your cover letter where you can say why it matters.
Saying why you are great and listing out how many wonderful things you have done certainly sets you apart, but it doesn’t tell a hiring manager why you are beneficial to them and to their company. Don’t make them guess at it – say it outright. This will save them time, it will make sure you are getting your message across, and it will demonstrate that you are applying because you care about devoting your energy and skills to the company and not just talking about your own achievements and ambitions.
Make It Perfect
In this age of spellcheck and Grammarly, there is simply no excuse for a cover letter (or a resume) to have a single typo or error in it. That said, it is amazing how many people still have errors in their cover letter. Spellcheck and Grammarly are great, but they aren’t perfect. Have a trusted friend or your local career center look over your cover letter before you send it in. They may spot something a computer program didn’t, or be able to suggest a stronger way to word a sentence that will help you stand apart even more.
Even things like misspelling an address or putting the date wrong (how many of us put the year wrong all the way through March?) can harm your chances of getting a job. In every job, details are important. Potential employers are looking at every detail of your cover letter as they decide whether to move forward with the screening process.
Yes, it may seem like a pain to draft up many different cover letters. Start with one template, and adjust it for every individual job that you are applying for. Your cover letter is your first impression with a company, and you need to show that you are interested in the company and that they should be interested in you. Think of your cover letter as your “why” and your resume as your “what.”
Keep your cover letter brief—no more than a page—but make it interesting enough that the reader can’t wait to move on to your resume to see what more you can bring to the company.
Give your cover letter plenty of attention while you are putting together your applications. A resume is crucial, but a cover letter can make or break whether or not a potential employer gives it a glance or carefully studies it. You wouldn’t show up to an interview in a wrinkled shirt, so don’t throw together a sloppy cover letter. First impressions matter.
Want more cover letter help? Download my newest guide How NOT to Start Your Cover Letter (Plus 7 Examples of What to Say Instead).
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About the author
Jessica Hernandez, President, CEO & Founder of Great Resumes Fast
Hi, I’m Jessica. I started this company back in 2008 after more than a decade directing hiring practices at Fortune 500 companies.
What started as a side hustle (before that was even a word!) helping friends of friends with their resumes has now grown into a company that serves hundreds of happy clients a year. But the personal touch? I’ve kept that.
You might have seen me featured as a resume expert in publications like Forbes, Fast Company, and Fortune. And in 2020, I was honored to be named as a LinkedIn Top Voice of the year!
I’m so glad you’re here, and I can’t wait to help you find your next perfect-fit position!
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