A frequently asked question among job seekers remains, "Is a cover letter important?" In fact, it's not unusual for job seekers to treat the cover letter as an afterthought. They've put so much time and thought into their resume that they may view the cover letter as nothing more than a required but unimportant attachment. In fact, this introductory letter can determine whether your resume leaps to the top of the pile or is relegated to the rejection heap. The importance of incorporating a well-written cover letter into your overall job hunt strategy cannot be overstated.
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Is a cover letter important?
An overwhelming number of executives polled by Robert Half said cover letters are valuable when evaluating job candidates. And even though the job application process has mostly moved online, the importance of a cover letter is still paramount. The same managers said they expect to receive cover letters even when applicants submit resumes electronically. So, is a cover letter important? Most definitely – especially if you want to be in the running against those who are taking the initiative to submit one.
Here's why a cover letter is important
The point of the cover letter is not to rehash your resume. Instead, a strong cover letter should be a unique page of prose in which you expand upon your most relevant selling points and direct the hiring manager to a particularly powerful piece in your professional history.
A cover letter can accomplish what a resume cannot
Explain why you want this particular job
Describe how your skills and experience make you ideal for the position
Explain traits you possess that would be useful for the role, which are not mentioned on your resume
Establish a connection with the company to which you are applying
Explain job gaps
5 tips for crafting a winning cover letter
1. Introduce yourself
After reviewing the job description and doing your research on the company, sit down at your computer and introduce yourself in writing as if you were speaking to a respected relative or colleague. In the first paragraph, mention the position for which you are applying, and why you are a great match for the role, based on your previous experience, education, etc.
2. Format it correctly
A cover letter should fit on one page, with normal font size (10 or 12 point, in a readable font style such as Times New Roman, Arial or Calibri) and generally kept to three or four paragraphs. Include your name and contact information at the top in a business letter format. Address the cover letter to the hiring manager who oversees the position for which you are applying. If you aren't sure, call the office and find out. Be sure to spell the manager's name correctly and include their title in the address portion of the cover letter.
3. Be concise
Highlight special accomplishments relevant to the position but again do not rehash what you've said in your resume. Instead, use the cover letter as an opportunity to provide one or two brief anecdotes about your work history, and identify key responsibilities or qualifications that you possess.
Keep in mind that some companies use software programs to screen cover letters and resumes filtering for contextual keywords, so be sure to address key phrases you've identified in the job description such as the type of degree required, the number of years' experience needed, specified software skills, organization and communication abilities, project management background, etc.
4. Be original
Avoid the temptation to use cover letter templates or let a friend write your letter for you. Instead, take the time to tout your accomplishments. Remember to have a friend with excellent grammar, punctuation and spelling skills review your letter before you send it. It might also be helpful to give them a copy of the job posting so they can review your letter for appropriate context.
5. Conclude on a high note
Close the letter by outlining your next steps, stating when you will contact the office to follow up, and reinforce your enthusiasm for the job.
If you're on the job hunt, don't underestimate the importance of a cover letter. We hope these tips took some of the mystery and intimidation out of the cover letter writing process.