Cover Letters

How to Write a Cover Letter Hiring Managers Want to Read

Every once in a while, the cover letter debate surfaces.

Are cover letters still necessary? 

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According to my friends who hire, many job seekers don’t send a cover letter with their applications. And with most people using online job boards for applications, there isn't always an option to include a cover letter. 

But MOST hiring managers expect to see a cover letter.

When I conducted a survey of 60 hiring managers and HR professionals in 2017 (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 here), I found that 81% of hiring managers said that a cover letter was an essential part of the application package. 

You can stand out by submitting a well-written cover letter with your application that:

  • Showcases your most important skills, experience, and training related to the open position
  • Builds connection with the reviewer by showing personality and motivation
  • Reduces red flags for hiring managers by addressing any potential concerns
  • Demonstrates genuine interest in the company and position

Common Cover Letter Mistakes

Job seekers often make these two mistakes when it comes to their cover letters:

  • They make it about themselves, not the company or position.
  • They use a generic cover letter template that reads like a boring form letter.  

Employers spend hours on their recruitment process, trying to attract the right candidate. By putting effort into your cover letter, you show respect for their time. And you make the reviewer’s job as easy as possible by including good information.

Writing Your Cover Letter

When writing your cover letter, start by carefully reviewing the job posting. Then do some research on the company.

Now answer these questions:

  • Why do you want to work at THIS company?  Employers want to know what draws you to this specific job at their company. You need to make them feel that they are your first choice.
  • What are the 2-3 key skill areas that the employer is looking for?  What specific skills, experience, or education do you have that would match what they require?
  • Is there anything on my resume that might cause a red flag? If so, find a tactful way to address it in your cover letter. This is also your opportunity to share information that is not highly visible on your resume.
  • What is your motivation? What excites or interests you the most about this position or company? Beyond getting a job, what drives you to apply?

Cover Letter Tips

When completing your cover letter, here are some of my tried-and-tested tips to make sure that your future cover letter stands out. 

  • Use a proper business letter format including a header with your address and contact information, date, company address, salutation, and closing.
  • Use the same formatting in your cover letter as your resume. You want it to look like a complete package.
  • Keep your paragraphs short to improve readability. I suggest about three lines per paragraph.
  • Use bullets to highlight your most important skills, experience, or training. You want to highlight your “best of” rather than trying to talk about everything.
  • Share stories of success using a personable, professional tone.
  • Use names where you can in the salutation (e.g. Dear Ms. Smith) or if you have been referred to the job by someone. (e.g. When Marie Reddy told me about this position as a Home Stager, I was immediately interested because...)
  • Show enthusiasm and interest. You want to show that not only can you do the job, you could do it best!

All my best, 

Kristin 

Kristin Vandegriend is the founder of Career Story where she has helped hundreds of her clients successfully transition to work they love. She supports her clients to uncover their strengths and communicate to get what they want in the workplace. 

Connect with Kristin at kristin@careerstory.ca or sign up to get her monthly career and job search tips straight to your inbox.

How Targeted Cover Letters Get Interviews

Every Christmas, my family gets a Christmas card from one of my extended family members. It is always nice to know someone is thinking of us though often he just signs it without a personal message. One year, he didn’t even sign it. He just inserted his business card.

This makes me think of cover letters. Cover letters are an expected part of your job application. But how you write that cover letter makes the difference! 

If you write a bland, templated cover letter, you risk having the reader treat it like a generic Christmas card. Stereotypical and disposable. The sentiments don’t ring true and your seeming lack of effort could actually be a turn-off.

I appreciate that our family member makes an effort to mail a Christmas card.  But how much more meaningful would it be to include a few personalized lines? Sending cards at Christmas are culturally expected. But why go through the motions if it comes across as a formality?  

Let’s tie that back to your cover letter. 

Employers want to know that you want to work for them.  They will not find value in a cover letter that reads like a form letter.

Now imagine that your cover letter was clearly targeted it to the company you are applying to!  It showed that you had researched the company and were familiar with the job posting. In your cover letter, you shared about how you could fulfill the job responsibilities.  Your personality shone through and revealed your motivation to do the job.

That’s a cover letter that I would want to read!  

Kristin Vandegriend is the founder of Career Story where she has helped hundreds of her clients successfully transition to work they love. She supports her clients to uncover their strengths and communicate to get what they want in the workplace. 

Connect with Kristin at kristin@careerstory.ca or sign up to get her monthly career and job search tips straight to your inbox.

3 Questions To Answer In Your Next Cover Letter

Best practice in job search suggests that you need to write a targeted cover letter for each job you apply for. That can be a daunting task to say the least!

So why do cover letters matter? 

Cover letters matter because it shows a potential employer that you have taken the time to understand the needs that they have stated in their job posting and you are clearly showing how you can help solve the employer’s challenges.  I often use the analogy of the job postings being the question – the employer is asking if anyone out there fits what they are looking for.  Your cover letter along with your resume should answer that question, clearly stating that you are the answer to the employer’s question!

Brian, a hiring manager for a large technology company, shares that he appreciates a well-written cover letter.  He says that cover letters are a great way to share information that is not highly visible in your resume. A good example might be if your experience does not perfectly match the job description. You can use your cover letter to fill in any gaps and help the reviewer get a sense of where you can still add value in the position. Also, Brian says that he uses the cover letter to gauge the candidate’s level of interest in the position. He is trying to determine if the job seeker is actually interested in his particular position within the company or simply just applying for any type of work.  Brian just completed a round of resume reviews and only 1 out of 15 job seekers included a cover letter.  By taking the extra effort to submit a tailored cover letter, you can greatly increase the strength and visibility of your application.

Recently, I was talking to Debbie, a board member of a local non-profit, who had recently submitted a job posting to a local job search website.  She had received a number of applications without cover letters. She said that this was a definite turn-off for her. She said that she and her team had taken a long time to craft the job description, really trying to get it right. She found it frustrating that job seekers were not taking the same care and attention to create a cover letter that showed that they had what it took to do the job. 

If writing cover letters is driving you crazy, consider these three guiding questions that can help you focus on what is important. 

  1. Looking at the job posting, what are the two key areas that you think the employer needs the most help in?  Now think of specific skills, experience, or education that you may have that would demonstrate that you can help the employer with those needs.
  2. Why do you want to work at this company?  What interests or excites you about this company? I cannot stress enough that you must do your research. Look at their website. Check out blogs and do some Google searches to figure out what this company does. Then find a way to share this in your cover letter!
  3. What would you be most excited about doing if you were hired? Let’s say that you get the job. Based on what you know about the job, what tasks would you find the most enjoyable?  This question indicates where your passions and interests lay.  Find a way to incorporate this energy and enthusiasm into your cover letter!

When you feeling impatient in your job search, you may be tempted to cut some corners and not submit a cover letter or submit a generic cover letter. Please do not do this. Take the time to write a carefully targeted cover letter that will help employers catch the vision for how you can help them and why you want to work for their company.

Trust me, it’s worth it! 

If writing a cover letter still proves to be daunting, consider getting some help! Contact Kristin today for your free 15-minute consultation at 604-614-3155 or at Kristin@careerstory.ca.