Composing a cover letter can feel daunting. Attack the letter-writing process step-by-step to make the effort more manageable.
Do you have to include a cover letter when applying for jobs? Generally, yes. Even if an employer does not explicitly request a cover letter, include one. There might be situations it isn’t is not needed, such as when handing out resumes at a career fair or when a colleague is personally referring your resume to a contact.
A cover letter offers an additional and different way to present your sales pitch. It reinforces your brand you portray in your resume. And since it’s personal and customized to a specific role and company, it more specifically shows how you think, write and present a business case than a resume can
Your primary purpose is to immediately inspire the reader to thoroughly review your resume. Present key information that compels the reader to contact you for an interview.The letter should ensure they do not miss the key highlights of your background for the specific role and company, and make the connection between their job opening and your resume. In other words, the cover letter creates the case for why your candidacy should be given serious consideration.
Because you are writing to a employer for a specific opening, customize your letter to the job ad. Carefully review the ad to identify the key criteria that are sought and address them directly.
If there are a few key criteria that you do not meet exactly, consider whether you could substitute something you’ve done that demonstrates the basic underlying skill or which represents a very similar kind of experience.
To make the best impression and to present a compelling message, be clear, to the point and well organized. No amount of fancy wording can overcome a poorly constructed message.
Craft a simple outline. Carefully review the list of points you want to include and eliminate redundancies. Reorganize remaining items, listing the most important points first. Revisit the items at the bottom of your list. You might find some weaker items don’t need to be included. Then and, only then, start writing!
By organizing your thoughts in this way, you’ll ensure you are:
Good letters follow a specific but simple structure that will make it easier for you effectively present your message and for the reader to follow and understand it.
There are three key sections, each with its own purpose.
For maximum impact, start building your case immediately. It can be helpful to share how you learned about their opening. This can be particularly meaningful if someone personally referred you. And don’t be afraid to mention specific people. This is not superficial name-dropping; it helps make the connection between you and the organization and puts your application and interest into context.
Use your relevant skills and experience as the backdrop for your interest. So, instead of “I’m writing to you today to express my interest in the Senior Financial Analyst” role, you might write, “As an MBA with solid experience in using analytical, research, and forecasting skills in the investment industry, I am writing to express my strong interest in the Senior Financial Analyst role.”
Review your resume carefully to determine which aspects of your background you can call out to make your case. Do not recreate your resume in the letter. Instead, call out its highlights so the reader doesn’t miss them and makes connection between your strengths and their needs.
End with an action item, stating what you will do next to follow up or what you hope the reader will do next. You might write that you will call to see if there is mutual interest in an interview or to offer additional information. If you don’t have the contact information needed to follow up by phone, mention your strong interest in an interview.
As with your resume, the quality of your job-search correspondence can make or break your search. All correspondence, whether networking emails or cover, thank you, and accept/decline letters should:
After receiving a job offer and verbally accepting, request the offer in writing. This might include a form for you to sign and return to indicate your acceptance. Writing a letter of acceptance is a best practice, too.
Use the same care that went into your cover letter – a professional, polished and positive acceptance letter reinforce in the employer’s mind that they made the right choice! You will want to:
The vast majority of people don’t think to send a letter when they turn down an offer. While it is not required, not sending one could leave a very unflattering impression with the company, which could be important in the future. When writing letters to decline an offer:
Even rarer than a letter declining a job offer is a letter thanking the employer after you are turned down for the job. But writing a brief note thanking the employer for their time and for letting you know the outcome will often appear so professional and gracious that it will stand out in a powerful way.
Thank them for the time and effort they invested in interviewing you. You can, of course, mention your disappointment. You can even mention that your disappointment is based on your sense that there truly was a great fit between your credentials and their job. But do not question or debate their decision.
A nice touch is to wish them the best with their selection while simultaneously mentioning your continued interest in their organization and your hope that they keep you in mind should suitable future openings arise. And they probably will!