One of the most frustrating things about my post-grad job search was completing an hour long 16-page job application that required everything from your GPA to volunteer experience, only for them to require a cover letter before you could press submit. I just told you everything about me, what more information could a company possible need?! A cover letter seems to be the “dessert spoon” when it comes to applying for new jobs. Everyone has seen or heard of it, but doesn’t know what purpose it serves or why it’s necessary. Including a cover letter can me a tedious tasks, but it’s worth going the extra mile. I sat down with Cassidy Edwards, an HR Professional to tell you why –
What exactly is a cover letter and do we actually need it?
While working in Human Resources, we encounter the controversial question “Do I need a cover letter?” from numerous job seekers. The answer is YES. The employment pipeline is filled with hungry candidates who strive to set themselves apart from the rest. Having the fundamentals on how to strategically sell oneself is a major key. A cover letter is a great way to do this, if done correctly. It serves as an introduction to your resume and another way to entice a Hiring Manager to move you into the Let’s Interview pile versus the To be Filed and Forgotten pile. An exceptional cover letter will include a human element which is a critical component to standing out in the crowd.
What’s the difference between a cover letter and an actual resume?
A well-crafted resume details your skills and employment history, while a cover letter works as the first impression an employer receives. You are your best advocate and your cover letter should project that confidence. This is the perfect opportunity to include information that may not be suitable for a resume. For example, in your resume you can include your responsibilities working as a Director of Memorial Hermann hospital and how you saved X amount of dollars relating to profit margin. However, in your cover letter you can describe how and why the culture of the new hospital you applied to aligns with your core values and work ethic. A cover letter gives you the opportunity to be personable and get personal.
Can including a cover letter ever hurt you?
Think of your cover letter as a good first date. Have a positive tone, be to the point, concentrate on your strengths and give them just enough personality. Employers look for these hints while reading.
One large mistake that job seekers make is using a cookie cutter template that begins with “To whom this may concern”. This introduction coupled with using overly formal verbiage can be damaging. Try to ensure that your cover letter aligns with you as an individual. For example, saying “this letter is an attestation to the prodigious…” is completely unnecessary and sounds awkward. All companies value someone who has exceptional communication skills. Aligning those skills in your cover letter with how you present yourself in a face to face or phone interview will let the employer know that you are authentic and genuine in your approach. A conversational approach is more captivating. Always remember spell check is your best friend.
What should be addressed on one?
There are a few key points that you want to include in your letter –
- Address the cover letter to a person or HR representative that can be found on the company website (i.e. To HR Director of Hospital Operations)
- Explain how the company would benefit from hiring you (i.e. an example of your ability to resolve an issue)
- Avoid including any compensation expectations, why you left your last employer, and objective statements
- Highlight experience and benchmark accomplishments (bullet them to bring attention)
- Avoid long anecdotes or stories, but include how you exemplify and can relate to the company culture (i.e. if applying to hospital burn unit you can say how you are the daughter/son of a 30 year veteran firefighter – see how this correlates?)
- When including contact information make sure your email is not along the lines of firstname.lastname@example.org. Create a professional email for your job search.
Short and sweet, or detailed?
HR Representatives and Hiring Managers may meticulously go through numerous cover letters or just scan for key points. As a rule of thumb, you have about 20-30 seconds to really catch their attention. Your main goal is to spark their curiosity and grab their interest. Keep the cover letter short (about 200 words) and to the point. Having more than one page for a cover letter can be overwhelming.
Should a cover letter be job specific? i.e. tailored to each position you apply for?
Most definitely. An employer wants to know that you took the time out to research their organization. Be sure to include the name of the organization and title for which you are applying. Companies want to feel special and not part of a candidate’s group email with blanket statements for multiple employers. Reference the appropriate material and name drop a current employee who referred you (as long as they are in good standing of course).
While industries are evolving in their ways of recruiting, cover letters are still relevant. Regardless if there are a multitude of avenues such as social media, LinkedIn, and networking happy hours to hire someone – HR still pushes that formal documentation is submitted as part of a new hire workflow. By conveying your passion and highlighting strengths, you will be sure to create a bridge that will have you noticed and qualified for the next round in the hiring process. Good luck!