Helbling Insight

Resume Cover Letters: The Whys, The Dos, and The Don'ts

There are job seekers who want to believe that including a cover letter with a resume is a waste of time and a thing of the past. As executive search consultants who review thousands of resumes each year, we can tell you first-hand that simply isn’t the case. Why is this important? Because conveying this extra information can help you to make it past the resume screening process and advance to the interview stage.

We all know the recruitment process has become digitized and infiltrated with online applications and employment software. While these technological advancements save time and money, they have also made the recruitment process impersonal and it is virtually impossible for candidates to show their personalities and traits to prospective employers through these programs. This is where cover letters come into play.

Objectives of Cover Letters

Cover letters complement resumes, and there are several reasons why most employers prefer they be included with resume submissions. Most importantly, cover letters provide hiring managers the ability to "see" candidates beyond their resumes because, when written effectively, cover letters can provide glimpses into potential candidates' character traits and cultural fits. When job applicants are unable to or don't take the opportunity to show their personal and professional traits that are relevant to an organization and a role, they leave a significant gap in their information.

Cover Letters can:

  • Demonstrate written communication skills and proper use of the English language.
  • Indicate interest level in an organization and a role.
  • Uncover signs of a strong cultural fit.
  • Show maturity and professionalism, as well as genuine interest and enthusiasm.
  • Highlight intangible personal and professional traits applicable to an organization and role.

 

Cover Letter Checklist

The Basics

The first step in developing a cover letter is performing research about an organization. By reviewing a company's website, career site, Twitter feed, and Facebook page, you can gain a strong understanding of what the organization does, how it operates, and what its internal culture and employees may be like, which are all important factors in a job search.

Beyond conducting initial research, other basic elements of creating cover letters are:

  • Keep your letter short and succinct.
  • Tailor each cover letter specifically for an organization and a role.
  • Avoid repeating information that is already within your resume.
  • Show your personality and enthusiasm and promote yourself without being overly aggressive.
  • Avoid using superlative words that imply you are the best candidate or the organization is the best in its industry.
  • Use the same design elements as your resume, meaning similar font, margins, layout, etc.

Now for the content...

Typically, there are three sections to a cover letter: a greeting, an introduction, a paragraph about your strengths and qualifications, and a closing paragraph that includes a call to action.

Greeting

While every element of your cover letter is important, the greeting is the first impression you make. If a specific person is not identified within a recruitment ad, perform due diligence in researching who the hiring manager is. For larger organizations, this can be tricky because there may be a human resources person involved in the process as well as a direct report. If that is the case, send your resume and cover letter to both individuals in addition to submitting an online application.

Introduction

Identify the role for which you are applying. There is no need to restate your name as it is already on your letter and resume. It also isn’t necessary to say that you are interested in a role because if you weren’t, you wouldn’t be applying.

Strengths/Qualifications

Highlight the specific reasons why you are interested in the organization and role, and your relevant intangible strengths and attributes that may differentiate you among prospective candidates. The objective is to demonstrate why you should be further considered and interviewed.

Closing paragraph

The final paragraph is best utilized for a call to action. Show your confidence and take a proactive approach by suggesting a meeting to further discuss the role and your qualifications. In saying that, you want to display confidence without sounding aggressive.

Finally...

Proofread your resume and cover letter thoroughly, and send them as PDFs so they can be opened on any platform and look correct.

While we all would like to believe that we will stand out in a recruitment process merely because of our skills and expertise, the reality is that there is a slim chance of that happening. There is strong competition out there and you have to leverage every opportunity you can to get noticed by prospective employers. Including a cover letter with your resume is a vital step toward landing the job you want because, in doing so, you will already be differentiating yourself among candidates.