Do you use cover letters or not? It’s been my experience, (and I am opening myself up to some possible criticism here but nonetheless here goes) the cover letters are generally written more often by people with better vocabularies and higher education than those who do not.
Please however, instead of firing back a retort that speaks of me being judgemental, I tell you honestly I’m basing that opening statement solely based on what I observe and have experienced first-hand in both my professional life and personal life over many years. Let me run the risk of saying there are two other groups who don’t usually pen a cover letter and they are either ignorant of how to write one through no fault of their own, or they know how but can’t be bothered to write one.
A cover letter is essentially an introductory letter that sets up your resume. It introduces you to the employer, tells them what you are applying for, how adding you to their organization would be advantageous for them, demonstrates your understanding of the position and why you are a good fit based on the criteria, and in a good one, it prompts the reader to both read the resume and there is a plain request for an interview.
Now what if I told you that only 50% of employers actually read a cover letter? Would that fuel your argument not to write one if you never do? How can you be sure that the job you are applying for falls into the ‘don’t read them’ category? Truth is you can’t unless the job specifically states that cover letters are not to be included.
In a cover letter, you can also head off any potential concerns a reader might have who only looks at your resume, such as having an employment gap, or several jobs in varying fields which might cause an employer to wonder if you are committed to them if hired or not. Stating something such as you have intentionally sought out employment in different sectors to gain a diversity of experience and have now settled on the job you are applying for as a longer term career move might dissuade them from thinking otherwise you are a job-hopper and can’t be counted on to stay with the company even if they hired you.
And let’s clearly understand why some people with lower education levels stay away from cover letters at all costs; literacy plain and simple. If spelling and grammatical errors are a weak skill set, it is more than understandable that a person would shy away from exposing themselves as being unable to string together sentences with glaring errors of irregular capitalization, spelling mistakes and run-on sentences without proper punctuation etc. I get that entirely and that’s not a knock at all on the people for whom this is a huge challenge. They are in fact recognizing their weaknesses and trying to avoid giving the employer just one more reason to pass them over and that shows how smart they actually are.
I have watched however many people put together a resume for a job with a vague opening and not use a cover letter, and I then ask them to play the role of the person receiving it at the other end. “Suppose you are the person opening the mail at the other end and the company is looking to hire 5 people including a Janitor, Clerk, Cashier, Stock and Inventory Worker and Cafeteria worker. Would you know what job this person was applying for and which Hiring Manager to forward this resume to?” The answer is that it isn’t always obvious unless the person reads the resume. And that is sending this message to a Receptionist in many cases: “You have lots of time on your hands. Read my entire resume, figure out what I’d be good at in your opinion and pass my resume on to the right person please.”
If you are putting your hopes for an interview in this persons hands this way, no wonder no one is calling you for an interview as that Receptionist doesn’t have the time or sometimes the skills to figure out what you’d be good at and for what you are applying. That’s your job not his or hers.
What to include? The date, your contact information, the name and title of the person to whom you are writing, one line stating the job title you are referencing all before you begin the first paragraph. Now open with a statement telling them clearly that you are applying for the job, followed by how you meet the stated requirements, and how your background makes you a solid, perhaps unique fit. Demonstrate what you know about the company and how you will add value but most important of all ask for the interview clearly and plainly. Don’t go all soft at the end and make the request for a meeting sound implied.
Good advice? Proofread it slowly then repeat. Get someone to look it over who writes them themselves and can give you some pointers. If you ask a friend who has a similar literacy level as yourself, they may easily miss errors despite giving it their very best. That too is understandable. This is an important document and worth your time to write.
Cover letters also demonstrate you’re putting in some real effort instead of a minimal effort. Good luck out there.