Picture a bag of chips. Let’s assume that you have never eaten this type of chip before, so you’re trying to figure out if they’re a snack that you would like.
You read the outside of the bag and check the ingredients (and if you’re like most Americans, the caloric content as well). The outside of the bag is the only legitimate thing that you have to go on when it comes to deciding whether or not you will buy that bag of chips.
The exact same thing can be said for cover letters; they are the best possible way to convince a hiring manager to buy the chips, in this context, your resume. A resume is something that tells employers what you have done, how long you have done it, and whether or not you were able to do it with a modicum of success.
Your cover letter is the gold that will sell recruiters on your resume. It is your opportunity to allow your personality and achievements to filter through and give companies a better idea of who you are, how passionate and motivated you are and, quite frankly, how badly you want a job. Cover letters are the opening arguments to an intense court case. You’re the lawyer and you’ve got to sway the judge and the jury to rule in your favor.
With today’s economy and job market, you’re doing your resume (and yourself) a major disservice if you aren’t submitting a personalized cover letter to each and every single company that you are applying to. In a previous article, I talked about modifying your resume for different industries, and the same is true for a cover letter. The cover letter supports the resume and should, therefore, be personalized as well.
So now that you’re convinced that you need a cover letter (because you most certainly do) how do you make sure your cover letter sells itself?
First, you want to make sure that you’re individualizing it. This means including proper format and addressing it to the appropriate party. Most job descriptions will tell you whom to address your resumes to. If a name isn’t listed, check the company’s website to get the contact information for the hiring manager or HR department head. Avoid the typical “To Whom it May Concern” because this is impersonal.
A cover letter is also a great place to explain any listed requirements or credentials your resume lacks. Maybe you might be short a year of the required experience or might not have the skill set in its entirety, but the cover letter gives you the opportunity to explain why the company should still consider you for the job. Stay away from statements like “I’m the best candidate for this position” and, instead, just explain what skills you do possess, how you can utilize them for the role and how this will benefit the company.
If you’ve got a an upper-level degree, such as a masters, and the entry requirement is a high school diploma, use the cover letter to explain that you’re aware of this difference and that you’re completely okay with it. Follow up with your reasoning, for example, that you truly desire to work for this specific company for XYZ reasons, are looking to work your way up the corporate ladder, and willing to start from the ground up.
Most important, your cover letter needs to tell the hiring manager why you want the job. Honesty is the best policy. Recently an undergraduate student wrote a blunt cover letter for an internship stating that he was from an average university, would work for next to nothing, and didn’t want to waste the recipient’s time exaggerating his credentials or job titles. He said:
I won’t waste your time inflating my credentials, throwing around exaggerated job titles, or feeding you a line of crapp (sic) about how my past experiences and skill set align perfectly for an investment banking internship. The truth is I have no unbelievably special skills or genius eccentricities, but I do have a near perfect GPA and will work hard for you. I’ve interned for Merrill Lynch in the Wealth Management Division and taken an investment banking class at [redacted], for whatever that is worth.
This student was blatantly honest and I’m sure the recipient of his letter, as well as others, respected that. Companies hear applicant after applicant spew forth the “I am committed to excellence,” “I am hard working and dependable,” and “Working for this company will take me one step further to reaching my career goals” lines. You are unique; so, let this show through your cover letter. Avoid cliché, overused sentences and be honest about why you’re seeking the position.
By the way, every employer knows, at the end of the day, workers work to get a paycheck. No need to be frank about this. Stick to your motivations for applying outside of compensation.