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Cover Letters are Hard to Write, But this is Why They Matter

Written By Rachelle Enns on November 3rd, 2020
INTERVIEW COACH
Rachelle Enns
Rachelle is a job search expert, career coach, and headhunter who helps everyone from students to fortune 500 executives find success in their career.

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Explore expert tips and resources to be more confident in your next interview.

In this guide, Mock Questions discusses the importance of cover letters and how you can use them as a tool to boost job application responses. We explain the way cover letters are read by Applicant Tracking Systems and hiring managers. Breaking down 7 essential components of a cover letter, we teach you what points to include in your document and what to omit. We also provide a checklist of what to do and what to avoid in your cover letter.

LOOKING AT COVER LETTERS IN A NEW LIGHT



Few people enjoy writing cover letters. For you, a cover letter may even seem redundant and time-consuming. We encourage you to reframe your mindset and think of a cover letter as a tool to introduce yourself and start a relationship with the hiring company.

Studies show that more than 50% of companies request a cover letter with each job application. As far as the other 50%, unless the hiring company explicitly states not to include a cover letter, it’s a good idea to send one. For that reason, every job seeker should have a strong foundational cover letter ready to use and personalize.

MAKE YOUR COVER LETTER WORK FOR YOU



A well-written cover letter has significant value and should do a few essential things to benefit your application:

A COVER LETTER SHOULD TELL YOUR STORY.


Telling your story in a cover letter means giving the hiring manager an understanding of your past accomplishments, current value, and future career goals. You’ll also want to give a splash of personality while remaining professional.

A COVER LETTER SHOULD MARK THE START OF YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE EMPLOYER.


When approaching a cover letter, be sure to include a healthy balance of 'you' and 'them.' If you use the entire word count of your cover letter to talk about yourself, you'll quickly lose the hiring manager's interest. Think of the last time you introduced yourself to someone new. Chances are, you spent a bit of time talking about yourself while also investing time talking about them.

A COVER LETTER SHOULD CLEARLY SHOW HOW THE COMPANY CAN BENEFIT FROM HIRING YOU.


A cover letter should highlight your top qualities while connecting them to the most desired skills for the role. Achieving this goal takes careful reading and time, getting to know the job description inside and out.

ARE COVER LETTERS EVEN READ?



When you apply to a job online, there is a very high chance that your cover letter will go through an ATS (Applicant Tracking System). An ATS is a bot-driven program most companies use to manage the information that comes from every job application.

The ATS will systematically read and organize your cover letter content compared to the job posting. The ATS then filters your words and assigns you a 'match rate.' Job applicants are then ranked by that match rate as a good or bad match.

The higher your match rate, the better chance that a hiring manager will notice your application. If the ATS deems your cover letter (and resume) to be a low match rate, your application will most likely go unseen by human eyes.

If your application gets the ATS checkmark of approval, it is much more likely to be seen by a real-life decision-maker. Then, the hiring manager will read your cover letter. They will look for highlights such as stand-out career accomplishments and related education or training.

THE MOST IMPORTANT COMPONENTS OF A COVER LETTER.



CONTACT INFORMATION. This suggestion may seem obvious, but it's alarming how many job applications miss adding their correct contact information!

PERSONALIZATION. Find out the hiring manager's name if you can. Address the correct department, including the job title and the job reference number, if applicable.

CONNECTION. If you have a connection to the company or the hiring manager, be sure to say so! Perhaps a friend referred you for the role, or a person in your network sent you the job posting. If you have a potential 'in,' be sure to say so tactfully.

ACCOMPLISHMENTS. Hiring managers love to see measurable results included in a cover letter. It’s the difference between saying, ‘I increased sales exponentially.’ vs. ‘I increased sales by 34% in 6 months after launching a new sales follow-up process for dormant client accounts.’

STORYTELLING. Similar to including your accomplishments, it’s a great idea to weave a story into your cover letter when possible. Storytelling is an especially great option for recent grads or professionals who are transitioning industries. Through storytelling, you can focus on your transferable skills and accomplishments without directly pointing to the related experience that you might be missing.

CULTURE FIT. Companies want to discover candidates with the best skills and the right attitude. Having the education and experience alone is rarely enough. Your cover letter should highlight the research you have done on the organizations’ mission and goals. Then, include details of exactly how you will fit in when hired.

ENTHUSIASM. After spotlighting why you are interested in the opportunity, be sure to ask for an interview. You can do this by including a call to action statement at the end of your cover letter, such as, ‘I look forward to learning more about this opportunity.’ Avoid cliché expressions of enthusiasm, such as, 'I know I am the perfect fit for this position.'

HOW LONG SHOULD A COVER LETTER BE?



A cover letter should rarely exceed 1 page, which amounts to approximately 400 words. Suppose you are applying to an executive position and want to write a letter of intent. In that case, the length of your document is more flexible.

INTRODUCTION: ~75 words.
Introduce yourself to the hiring manager and clearly state the role of interest. Start your letter with a pop of attention-grabbing information.

BODY OF THE LETTER: ~250 words.
Discuss your ‘why’ and highlight a few accomplishments that show off your relevant skills. Mention a few soft skills, your education, and the cultural fit.

CONCLUSION: ~ 50 words.
Sign off with enthusiasm in just a couple of sentences. Be sure to thank the hiring manager for their time and attention and leave a call to action, such as ‘I am excited to speak with you further.’

CHECKLIST - WHAT TO DO & WHAT TO AVOID



YES - GREAT IDEA!

  • Personalize every cover letter to the job in question.

  • Make sure to hit the right keywords between your cover letter and the job description.

  • Include your full name and contact information.

  • Clearly state the job title to which you are applying.

  • Address the company, division, and job reference number if you have this information.

  • Provide numbers-rich, measurable results.

  • Work hard to find the name of the hiring manager.

  • Discuss career gaps and job movement in a positive tone.

  • Keep the body of your cover letter around 400 words.


AVOID THESE MISTAKES & TRY THIS INSTEAD



  • If you absolutely cannot find the hiring manager's name, avoid antiquated greetings such as 'Dear Sir.' Instead, try addressing the company in general terms.

  • Avoid being long-winded and giving too much information. If applicable, briefly mention any dramatic shifts or gaps in your career. A cover letter isn’t the place for a long-winded story.

  • There is no need to give a deep dive into your entire career history. Instead, touch on the most relevant information as it relates to the job. Ask yourself, ‘would this information be best kept for the first interview?’

  • Never speak poorly of anyone or anything. There is always a positive way to talk about your current situation.

  • Remove assumptive phrasing such as, ‘I know I am a perfect fit for the role.’ Instead, try saying, ‘I see a valuable connection between my skills and the qualities you seek.’

  • Sending the same general message with every job application will not take you far. It’s essential to take your foundational cover letter and tweak it for each job application that you make.


AN EXCITING ANNOUNCEMENT!



Mock Questions is now offering a professional cover letter service with packages starting from just $129 USD for members only.

Inside this exclusive service, you can hire our interview experts to revise your existing cover letter or write your cover letter from scratch!

Not a member yet? Click here to upgrade your membership and gain access to our private cover letter service.