Back in the days when many of us (or maybe you parents) applied for jobs via newspaper ads, it was a given that you would include a covering letter. In fact, not doing so was unthinkable; you understood that a hiring manager was likely to toss your application in that event.
A covering letter is something you send along with an application or résumé. It’s a way to introduce yourself, individualize your application, and highlight how your experience makes you the best candidate for the job.
In today’s digital world, a lot of people question whether the covering letter has become obsolete. Doesn’t your LinkedIn profile suffice, and doesn’t an online application make it unnecessary? With such high volumes of applications, do recruiters even bother reading covering letters anymore?
Well, it is still worth it! There are 3 principal reasons why: demonstrating interest, providing context to experience, and showcasing your writing skills.
1) It shows that you’re truly interested in the position
Let’s go back to that point about so many applications being online now. That makes it quick and easy to apply, and when it’s quick and easy for you, it’s quick and easy for everyone else, too. So you (and others) can apply to multiple employers and just hope one results in a hit.
Taking the time to write and submit a covering letter indicates a genuine interest in the position. Sure, some recruiters might not take the time to read it. However, it’s a “can’t hurt” situation: maybe a covering letter won’t always help you, but it won’t hurt you.
And once that recruiter does sit back and read that letter, you now have that person focusing just on you.
2) It gives context to your experience
A résumé lists your education and experience, but much of the time, it doesn’t connect your relevant experience to the job you’re seeking. Plus, let’s face it: everyone knows that many people pad their résumés or craft them to make themselves shine. So don’t be shocked to learn that recruiters are aware of this as well.
Your covering letter, then, allows you to explain in overview fashion how specific aspects of your experience make you a great fit. With the covering letter, you can tailor your application to the role you’re seeking.
The résumé shows that you have field-related experience; the covering letter can help you tell exactly how it applies to the position.
The covering letter also enables you to express yourself as a unique individual. Do you think recruiters enjoy shuffling through application after application, all of them saying the same basic things? Hint: No!
3) It’s an opportunity to showcase your writing skills
If you have kids, you’ve probably heard them complain about having to write essays (or thank-you notes). Who cares about writing skills anymore when everyone just texts, right?
The people reading applications, résumés, and covering letters are highly educated. They know bad writing when they see it, and they know good writing as well. For them, writing is an important skill.
Fair or unfair, many people take writing ability as a sign of intelligence and competence. Have you ever decided not to patronize a business because the sign out front has some terrible grammatical mistakes? You’re not the only one!
Let your covering letter be an opportunity to show more than just your technical writing expertise. Let it show your voice, your sense of humor, and your ability to be engaging and organized. Let it show that you’re smart.
Is writing not a natural strength for you? That’s okay! Online writing courses are convenient, affordable ways to strengthen your writing!
Tips for a good covering letter
So now that you see why a covering letter still makes sense, how do you write a good one? Let’s look at some ways:
- Check and double-check your spelling and grammar. Have a second set of eyes look it over if you can, and use online tools that are readily available.
- Do you know the hiring manager’s name? If you do, address him or her by name. It shows that you’ve taken time to learn about the company and that you’re eager to make personal connections.
- Use a clear font. While an individual writing style can make a good impression, using a hard-to-read font on the assumption that it makes you more unique isn’t. What can’t easily be read will be easily tossed.
- If you use acronyms, explain what they mean. Don’t assume your audience knows them. A recruiter is more likely to take a pass than take the time to look up an unfamiliar acronym.
- Be honest! That should go without saying, but when people lie about their experience and qualifications, they’re usually discovered at some point. And it typically doesn’t go well after that.