Cover letters are a time-consuming part of the job application process, especially when done well. You might be wondering: Should I include a cover letter in my job application?
The answer: Many career experts agree that sending a cover letter is almost always the best decision. In the world of automated applications, a well-written cover letter gives you the opportunity to show a personal side and demonstrate why hiring you is a smart move. It’s a way to stand out among hundreds of other candidates and it shows your willingness to personalise your application for each job. Here are some guidelines to take into account:
Emphasise and highlight important keywords
Ideally, job applicants should tailor their cover letters to the individual hiring manager and position, incorporating specific keywords that align with the job posting. Don’t just repeat what’s in your resume. Instead, give specific examples that match the requirements of the job and illustrate why you are a perfect fit for the role. Cover letters should be free of typing errors and incorrect information — hiring managers often rely on these details to evaluate your ability to follow directions or your attention to detail.
Share your unique story but connect it to the role
As you are tailoring your cover letter, you want to share job experiences or personal stories as they relate to the job you’re applying for. You can be creative in how you do this but always bring it back to the requirements of the role. In How to Write a Cover Letter, you’ll see examples of how to write a creative cover letter or a more conventional one — both are strong options if done well.
Have a conversation with smaller companies
Roles at smaller companies can have a big impact on the organisation’s culture, so hiring managers will sometimes use cover letters to determine how well a candidate will fit in with the team. This means your cover letter can have an especially meaningful effect by allowing you to introduce yourself, reference why you’d be a good fit for the role and the mission of the company, and make a personal connection.
Address gaps and concerns
Your cover letter is also the perfect place to proactively address issues or potential concerns. It can explain irregularities in your employment, short-term positions, and even incomplete degrees. Don’t leave potential employers to guess or assume the worst. Instead, take this opportunity to tell your story on your own terms and in the most positive way possible.
Caveat: When not to send a cover letter
There are instances when it is not appropriate to send a cover letter — specifically when an employer does not request one and/or the job application software does not allow for additional document attachments. If this is the case, follow the employer’s instructions. And, make sure that your resume includes plenty of keywords that align with the job description. If the online application offers the cover letter as “optional,” take this option and increase your chances of moving forward in the process.
Here are additional resources to help you complete your job applications successfully:
Start with the basics on writing your cover letter: follow instructions, tell the story of your career in your own voice, and capture the attention of the hiring manager.
After you’ve written your cover letter, you’ll want to edit and proofread to ensure you aren’t making mistakes that might cost you the job.
Finally, once you’ve finished writing, you should spend time proofreading your resume to make sure all of the information in both documents is consistent throughout and relevant to the job.