One of the commonest questions I am often asked by job seekers is whether cover letters are still necessary. Some career consultants maintain that the advent of online job portals has rendered them redundant. The resume, they contend, is what is really important, and cover letters add limited value.
At the risk of being labelled “contrarian” I would suggest that cover letters have never been more important than now.
Why You Should Bother Writing a Good Cover Letter
In the past twenty years the job application process has evolved from hard copy to digital format. Gone are the days when job seekers would invest in quality paper and go to the trouble of printing or reproducing resumes on high quality linen paper. Job boards, Linked In and applicant tracking systems have both automated and expedited the time required to prepare, submit and review applications.
So, in this environment, how does a job seeker differentiate their candidacy and qualifications from that of hundreds of applicants? Certainly, ensuring one’s resume contains the applicable and relevant key words is one mechanism through which this can be achieved. However, the fact remains that a resume does not speak to issues of motivation, interest or ambition. That is where a well-written cover letter can add value.
A good cover letter should highlight three important issues:
- It should convey why the job seeker is applying for a specific role.
- It should demonstrate that the job seeker knows something about the organization to which they are applying.
- It should emphasize some unique features or qualities about the job seeker’s candidacy that makes him/her a compelling candidate.
Including a cover letter can also provide two distinct advantages over not using one. First, it can be used to explain gaps or rationalize glaring deficiencies in a candidate’s background. This is especially true in cases where a job seeker has a serious gap in employment continuity. Second, it can add an element of uniqueness and personality in a recruitment process that places inordinate stress on uniformity, and where uniqueness and individuality is often woefully lacking.
A good cover letter should not be more than a page long. Where possible, it should make use of bullet points and short paragraphs to create some visual appeal as well as variety. Referring to key metrics is critically important. Clearly, it should not be a regurgitation of content that can be found in the candidate’s resume. Above all, it should be tailored to the organization to which the candidate is applying, and it should be addressed to a specific individual rather than the ubiquitous “Dear Sir/Madam” or “To whom it may concern”.
Seeing is Believing
Below is a reproduction of a cover letter I developed for a client a few years ago. The client’s name and the name of the organization and hiring manager he applied to have obviously been altered. However, it serves to illustrate some of the points I was making.
31 December 2022
RE: <Insert Position Title and/or Job Reference ID #>
Dear <Insert name of “Hiring Manager” and the job title>
As a results-oriented, dedicated Retail Store Manager with an exemplary work ethic and over twenty years progressively responsible work experience in this field I believe my qualifications and experience are a close match to your position requirements. Your organization’s recent growth and expansion across the Ontario marketplace, particularly in automobile products, presents a number of exciting challenges and opportunities, ones that I strongly believe closely align with my background and skills.
I take considerable pride in my ability to deliver high quality customer service support to my clients, and I believe this ability would be directly applicable to your organization.
Some of my more significant Retail Store Management accomplishments that I would draw to your attention include:
- Awarded Sales Manager of the Year at the XYZ Company in 2018.
- Successfully achieved a 10% increase in store sales volume in the 2016 fiscal year.
- Selected as part of a project team involved in facilitating several store openings for The ABC Corporation.
- Conducted high level training courses for new store managers at the B C & F Corporation.
Overall, I possess a complete skill set that would be required to excel in the role of <Insert Position Title>, and am confident that the combination of my experience and personal qualities will distinguish me as a leading candidate for this position.
I would encourage you to please review my enclosed resume that provides a much deeper profile of my accomplishments and abilities. In summary, I look forward to hearing from you further and discussing ways in which I can make a meaningful contribution to your organization.
A Final Thought
Clearly, it would be naïve to suggest that a good resume and cover letter alone will land you an interview. Nowadays, online competition is stiff. While a cover letter is important, it needs to be supplemented with two additional techniques:
- Use of AI tools such as Job Scan to ensure you are including the appropriate key words in both your resume and cover letter; and
- Follow up by means of a phone call with the selected Hiring Managers to reaffirm your interest in the position.
Sometimes in life what distinguishes us isn’t so much doing what is required, but rather, doing the unexpected.