The Importance of Cover Letters in Your Job Search

Many people think that cover letters are a thing of the past, but they are still very important when applying for a job via job boards and company career sites.

Your resume or a CV is a specification sheet. It’s a listing of features and capabilities spiced with experience. While your resume is probably the most important job search document you have, your cover letter is second on that list. How will a job seeker catch the attention of a recruiter, head hunter or hiring manager when they receive tons of resumes? The answer lies in the cover letter which becomes the single most important document in the “attention getting” process. Your cover letter is your best option to stand-out and be noticed.

Hiring managers and recruiters spend, on average, 7 seconds on a job application when first scanning it and deciding if the candidate is worthy. With this in mind, your cover letter must be spot on, laser targeted and very very compelling.

Far too often job seekers focus all of their attention on creating (what they perceive to be) the perfect resume and 1% on the cover letter, which ends up being a simple form letter sometimes just stating “here is my job application”.

You can achieve much better results by:

  • Treat your cover letter as the second most important document of your job application process (the first being your resume). This is the very first document the hiring manager/recruiter will see! Your cover letter must be compelling enough to convince the reader to review your resume.
  • Your cover letter should be no more than 1 page in length and should be targeted to the job application.
  • Your cover letter should be split in 3 sections:
    • Intro part – why are you submitting your application?
    • Fit – What makes you exactly the one and only person that the hiring manager is looking for?
    • Skills and Experience – What are the unique qualities you can bring to the table that no-one – or only few – can?
  • Get Their Attention: While you must meet most of the basic requirements for the opportunity, now is the time to stress the value can you bring in terms of experience and successes from past and similar responsibilities. Hiring managers don’t just want to know what you have done. They want to know what you have achieved and how that can be leveraged into future successes. You should be specific – e.g. “managed to increase market share by 20 pp in a very depressed market moving my company from 4th to 2nd position in 18 months” – just to give one example.
  • Marketing is key (take a look at the CareerAlley Job Search Marketing Toolkit) and it is common to focus on elements of needs.  Apply the needs approach to your cover letter to make a real difference.

And a final practical note. Spend time on your cover letter in terms of design. Be neutral, avoid fancy fonts, excessive highlighting, bolding, underlining etc. And, needless to say, do a spell, grammar and syntax check at least three times. Don’t rely on your word processing application which never ever can distinguish “advise/advice” or “their/there”.

In terms of process, when you have made your cover letter, print it out, sign it and scan it with your signature. Then upload it and send it. The absence of a signature makes it too computer like, i.e. impersonal and THAT is EXACTLY what you want to avoid.

Additional ResourcesYour Guide to Writing a Cover Letter

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Good luck in your search,

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  • Michelle Deaven

    Great advice! You can’t ignore your cover letter!