Professional Resume Writer, Career Writer and Career Coach
Most people completely waste their cover letter real estate. Your cover letter is another opportunity to speak directly about how your background and capabilities align with the opportunity you seek. It also allows you to introduce your personality a bit more than a resume does. So, why are cover letters important? Because you can stand out, big time, with a custom cover letter directed to the right person.
What is a Cover Letter?
A cover letter is a short (one page or less) statement you submit to a hiring manager or recruiter. Usually, it accompanies your resume and other application materials. It’s different from a statement of interest, which is usually written about an unadvertised role. Cover letters have a personal touch (or at least they should) and allow you to explain how your skills and experience align with your specific job. It also affords you the space to discuss your motivations for applying to that specific role at that particular company.
The Purpose of a Cover Letter
Cover letters elaborate on your resume. While resumes are written in the third person and are often more formal, cover letters are first-person statements begging for personality.
You can stand out among the sea of boring, cliche, and clunky resume regurgitators by crafting one that’s focused, specific, and exciting. In digital-forward hiring processes, cover letters offer unique insight into your personality, passions, and communication style. For this reason, it’s important not to fall victim to using the same tired cover language hiring professionals have seen a thousand times. (Did the phrase, “To whom it may concern,” pop into your head just now, too?). Instead, define how you can solve a problem for the company or help them grow—more on how to convey this later.
Why Are Cover Letters Important?
Cover letters accent your resume like a polished picture frame encases a cherished photo. If you’re on the fence about whether to dedicate the time to a memorable cover letter, here are a few reasons why you should.
Demonstrates Suitability for the Role
More than anything, a cover letter helps demonstrate to the employer how your relevant skills, achievements, and experience will help companies solve a problem once hired. You can briefly highlight previous accomplishments from previous roles to help the reader visualize you in the position.
After reading 100 or so cover letters with the same opener, you can engage the hiring manager with some tasteful personality. Tell a story, make a point, and connect the dots between your experience and the job. Don’t just don’t write, “I’m excited to submit my application for the role of X.” A couple of non-traditional lines will lighten up your letter and showcase your unique character.
Explains Something Your Resume Can’t Address
You may have leveraged networking to help you get a job; allow your cover letter to convey your relationship with your referee and how they inspired you to apply. You can also dedicate space in your cover letter to explain how you connect to the mission or another aspect of the company. These explanations would clutter your resume, but they’re perfect additions to a cover letter.
Prefaces a Career Transition
While you should never apologize for your missing experience, you can allocate space in your letter to explain your motivations for pivoting in your career. You might be tempted to use phrases like, “Despite my lack of experience as a sales manager…” but don’t. These phrases indicate weakness. Instead, emphasize the transferable skills you possess in spades and your motivations to transition.
Showcases Writing Skills
Perhaps most important today, cover letters showcase your writing skills. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, 73% of employers want a candidate with strong written communication skills, second to only leadership skills, and the ability to work as a team member. If you can articulate your thoughts via a clear, concise cover letter, it proves your communication skills, which are essential for effective workplace performance.
Do You Need a Cover Letter With Your Resume?
As a career coach who has interviewed countless recruiters, I assure you that cover letters do, in fact, get read. This is especially true in marketing and communication roles, where cover letters can serve as a sample of written communication skills—the main focus of a journalism role, for example.
Even outside these fields, hiring professionals often read cover letters for all qualified applicants who want to move to the next step of the hiring process or those they’re on the fence about and want additional context into their background and experience.
Given the time constraints hiring managers are under to source qualified applicants from a pile of hundreds, most will skip your cover letter if your resume doesn’t entice them first. Your cover letter will likely get overlooked if you’ve applied to a cybersecurity role with an education-focused resume. Recruiters look at your resume first and your cover letter second. This is why writing an impactful letter matters, as it could be the thing that tips the scales in your favor.
When to Not Include a Cover Letter
Is there ever a time not to include a cover letter? Keep reading for instances when skipping the letter could be the right move.
There is No Place to Upload One on the Application Platform
Ah yes, the ol’ “there’s no place for a cover letter upload, so I must not need one” trick. If you’ve crafted a tailored cover letter for the role you’re dying to share, you must find a way to ship it. Hear me out. Say you want to apply for an editing gig at Company X. Following the instructions, you submit an application through their online portal and upload your resume. You skip the cover letter because there wasn’t a space to provide one. Most applicants will stop here and cross their fingers for an interview invitation. But you’re not everyone. You go above and beyond to stand out.
The lesser-known step two of the application process requires navigating to LinkedIn, finding the managing editor at Company X, searching for their email address, and emailing them directly regarding the position. Via email, you attach both your resume and cover letter to ensure the hiring manager learns all they can about you in one shot. Now, you’ve connected with a hiring manager and found a way to stand out among the competition—a win-win.
The Job Opening Explicitly Advised Not to Include One
The ONLY time you shouldn’t include a cover letter is when the job advertisement clearly states not to. Employers won’t waste time on applicants that can’t follow the most basic directions. So while it may pain you not to attach the letter that explains your career gap or your interest in the position, follow the rules. If you really want to get the team’s attention, consider reaching out directly on LinkedIn.
How to Write an Impactful Cover Letter: An Outline
There are no rules to cover letter writing, but there is a strategy. Cover letters are less formal, so your tone can be more personal than your resume (if the company culture warrants it). Here are the steps I recommend when developing a cover letter:
After you address your cover letter, your opening paragraph should act as a hook. You can outline your total years of related experience, industry expertise, value proposition, and/or value-added skill sets.
You could also call out a problem (or pain point) employees in that specific position often experience. Companies spend thousands of dollars to pay just one employee to manage these things and brainstorm solutions. Find that problem, then dig in and twist the knife in a bit further to drive it home.
Use the second paragraph to describe how your skills and background make you a good fit for the role. Explain your expertise outright, plain and simple. Address a few of the job posting requirements or major themes, using exact language from the posting to detail how you are qualified to perform in the position. For readability, share three to five bullet points of key achievements related to the role.
Personalize this part of the cover letter, sharing something you know about the company or why you are interested in working for this particular organization. Briefly reiterate how your skills and background would benefit the company, what problems you can fix, what unique solutions you’d bring along, or why you’d be a good fit.
The Call to Action
End your cover letter on a positive note. Keep it short and sweet. Reinforce your interest and set a follow-up precedent. Then, thank the reader for taking the time to read your cover letter.
Good & Bad Cover Letter Examples
Average Cover Letter
To Whom It May Concern,
I’m submitting my application in response to the Operations Director Role at ABC Company. As a leader with more than seven years of experience in this field, I am excited about the opportunity to bring my supply chain, procurement, and problem-solving skills to your company.
While working at Supply & Co., I restructured the order fulfillment process to create 15% annual cost savings while reducing late fees by 35%. I also helped achieve a 97% customer satisfaction rating. Though my experience is mostly in the transportation industry, I am throwing my hat in the ring because I am self-driven and highly motivated to grow my career.
In my next role, I am looking to partner with a company focused on maximizing the potential of its employees. The company seems very invested in its people and I would love to be part of your culture.
I hope to talk with you soon. Thank you for your time,
Exceptional Cover Letter
Dear John Smith,
As a veteran of Ace Hardware and Old Navy, I understand how crazy shipping schedules can get. They change in the blink of an eye, and stores always seem to need items delivered yesterday. I know how to prioritize responsibilities and motivate my teams to do the same.
My 10+ years of operations leadership span the outdoor and lifestyle/apparel industries, where I introduced processes and tools that increased productivity, generated cost savings, and positioned departments for long-term success. My experience includes:
- Transitioned regional warehouse to new digital POS platform, developing SOPs, conducting training, and onboarding two new department managers to implement process improvements.
- Restructured order fulfillment process to create 15% annual cost savings while reducing late fees 35%.
- Helped achieve a 97% customer satisfaction rating over a 24-month period through customer service metrics and process improvement.
In my next role, I want to partner with a company focused on maximizing the potential of its employees. ABC Company recently landed on Glassdoor’s Best Places to Work survey with overwhelming support from its employees. As a leader, I prioritize autonomy and fun in the workplace, and my work style seems to fit your culture.
I will follow up next week to see if we can arrange a time to talk, as I am very interested in your Operations Director role. Thank you, and I look forward to our next conversation.
Whether you’re writing a cover letter for an internship or a director role, you need to stand out. Before typing even one line, consider the role in question and why you’re the best candidate for the job. Boring cover letters get tossed, but exceptional cover letters get interviews.