No the cover letter is not dead; nor has it fallen out of practice. Yes you will come across job postings that ask that you only include a résumé, but don’t take these directives as justification for not writing one as your usual practice when applying for a job. Put in the effort required and include a cover letter as the rule.
The first thing to look for in a job posting is whether there is a job number to quote in your cover letter. Typically an ad will instruct you to put this in the subject line of an email when applying, and likewise it’s good practice to put this at the beginning of your cover letter and underlined for prominence. This courtesy just ensures your application gets to the right hiring people for the job in question as it may be just one of many they will interview for.
The question now comes up as to whom the letter should be addressed. ‘To whom it may concern’ might be your standard opening, but I strongly discourage this generic opening. We have social media, company websites and of course the phone; do some digging and get the name, proper spelling and job title of the person you want your cover letter and resume to end up with. Sure some employers go out of their way to hide this information from job seekers, but do your best. If this information can be tracked down with a phone call or a visit to their website, applicants who address their letter to the person in question stand out from the pack right off the top.
Now, how to begin? Well, let’s put ourselves in the place of the reader of your mail. “Who is writing me and what do they want?” Two obvious questions. Your name at the top and bottom of the letter will explain the who, so your opening line should get right to your motive for contacting them. You do after all, want the résumé and cover letter you submit to lead to a job interview, correct? Right; so ask for one.
It is with genuine enthusiasm that I request an interview for the position of _______.
Oddly enough some people think this is too aggressive. Well, it’s not; it’s assertive yes, and it respects the time of the people who read the cover letter, right from the Receptionist, Human Resources staff and the specific Hiring Supervisor. Everyone who reads your opening knows what you’re after. Please don’t dance around what you want and dither about just hinting at what you want. Too often I see people write things like,
Please find my attached resume. I believe I have the qualifications you are looking for and I would appreciate the chance to meet and discuss how we can benefit each other
There’s just so many things wrong in a paragraph like the one above. The language is passive and weak, and if you can’t just come out and tell them what you’re after, that’s an issue. After all, you do want an interview don’t you? Of course you do!
So what’s wrong with that opening? Okay, first off, why are you asking them to find your résumé? Did you hide it? Do you have the qualifications or don’t you? If you do, then saying, “I have the qualifications you are looking for” is the right thing to say instead of inserting the word, ‘believe’ which literally means you’re not sure you have the qualifications needed, but you think you do. While we’re at it, substitute the word, ‘opportunity’ for the word, ‘chance’. This is an opportunity – for both you and the company. ‘Chance’ sounds risky, and you don’t want to sound like a risk at all. Finally, while it’s true that both you and the company will mutually benefit each other if/when hired, in your opening greeting, you should concentrate on what you’ll do for the company and not speak about what you’ll get out of things.
Okay so you’ve asked for the interview right up front. Now move to their needs and how your combination of skills, education, experience and attitude fit their needs. Research you’ve done will clue you in about what to speak to. Without some digging, you’re just guessing.
Your cover letter should include words from the posting but not just be a rehashing of what’s in the resume itself. Consider speaking to your motivation here, possibly stating why you’re entering the workforce, returning to your field of choice, you’ve just relocated to the area, etc. but whatever you speak to, don’t place yourself as a charity case; it’s not about what they can do for you but rather how your background qualifies you uniquely. Sell and market yourself to their needs.
When you do close off your cover letter, reiterate your request for an interview.
As stated in the opening, I am requesting an in-person interview to best demonstrate my strong candidacy for this opportunity.
Anyone skimming your cover letter can’t miss your intention. Assuming they know why you’re writing and that’s it’s obvious or a given would be a mistake. If you haven’t the courage to simply state what it is you want, how will you perform if they actually hire you?
When you close off, stand out. Drop the, ‘sincerely’ and ‘yours truly’.
Enthusiasm after all is the number one trait employers want.