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Cover Letter Basics and Tips – When to Include, When Not To


Apr 01, 2021

In simple terms, a cover letter is a tool that helps you introduce yourself to recruiters in a concise yet memorable way, when applying to a job. A well-designed cover letter does include information from your resume, but only to take readers (usually hiring managers) on a guided trip of your professional experiences and accomplishments in an engaging way.

While your resume is about presenting facts related to your career, a cover letter is expected to reflect more of your personality. This is because it serves as the very first introduction to the person who has considered you for a job opportunity. Thus, the primary intent of a cover letter is to create that first impression on recruiters.

While crafting a cover letter, it is a great idea to always plan about the content beforehand according to the industry as well as the job you are applying to. Moreover, the format you choose should also be in accordance with the corresponding organization or industry.

How a Perfect Cover Letter Should Look Like?

A cover letter should be well structured, appealing to the eye, and present all information in an orderly fashion. A great cover letter must have the following sections:

  • Your name, address and date
  • Recruiter’s name
  • The company’s name along with its address
  • A salutation/greeting
  • An opening statement
  • A short main-body paragraph
  • A closing sentence
  • A valediction
  • Your name and/or signature in the end

When Not to Include a Cover Letter

While experts recommend including a cover letter every time, there are instances/occasions, wherein you are not required to or should not include a cover letter.

  • In case you are applying for a job online, you may not get an option to upload or submit a cover letter. Hence, don’t worry as you don’t need to do so.
  • Many times, employers strictly state that what they want you to submit as a job applicant, viz., resume, reference and more. So, if not asked, you don’t need to include a cover letter. Nevertheless, you can still consider sending a concise form of the same in the email body, if you have the space for the same.

While applying to jobs, what needs to be remembered is that you should not miss any opportunity to impress recruiters. Often times, employee do expect a cover letter, but do not explicitly ask for the same. In such cases, you should never forget attaching the one with your resume.

Now when you know what cover letter is as well as its importance, let’s see how we can craft a really imposing cover letter.

Tips to Create a Striking Cover Letter

As mentioned above, a cover letter must be crafted in a way to leave a lasting impression on recruiters. This, in turn, improves the chances of your resume getting noticed by hiring managers. And as you know very well, a good resume is your key to securing an interview call!

A cover letter should be tailored, particularly as per the job you are applying to and the industry you are serving in general. This might seem a bit puzzling and challenging at first glance but trust us, creating an impressive cover letter can really be a cakewalk!

While there is nothing wrong using an industry-specific cover letter template, you need to take care of some seemingly trivial yet crucial aspects of cover letter.

Keep reading to have some really great tips on cover letter writing.

  • Use a Fresh Cover Letter for Every New Position you apply to: First and foremost, just like resume, a one-size-fit-all cover letter is never going to work in your favor. While it is easy to copy-paste the old one when applying to a new job opening, it will surely not help you stand out.

    To show that you are really excited about the job, use a unique cover letter every time you apply to a new opening. However, you can consider rewording some parts of the previous cover letter or including something more relevant to the job opening.

  • Choose the Right Type: Jon seekers share varied types of cover letters with employers. There are conventional ones (also called, application letters) used to apply to job openings. And then, there are letters of interest (also known as prospecting letters) through which, job seekers ask employers about any possible job opportunities. So, choose the right format.

  • Think Beyond Resume: Your cover letter shouldn’t be just an abridged version of your resume. Rather, it should reflect what actually you will bring to the company, if employed. Also, emphasize on letting recruiter know how you are a great fit for the job and the company.

    Include 2-3 appropriate skills and present data to show your exceptional performance in previous or current roles.

  • Do Not Apologize for Missing Skills: It is quite possible that you do not fulfill all the job-related requirements, but why to apologize for that! Instead, stress on your strong points and transferrable skills.

  • Highlight Just the Relevant Experience: : Here, the job description (JD) comes to your rescue. JDs usually include most important requirements at the top or are repeated several times. Always mention your past roles and experiences pertaining to those requirements.

  • Mention Relevant Skills: This is specifically important when you know that you are capable of doing the job, but your experience might not be directly suiting to the requirements of the same. In such a case, focus more on your skills.

  • Avoid Giving Links to Social Media: While repeating your name, phone number and address is acceptable, mentioning links to social media profiles, portfolio and profiles is not at all necessary. Save these for your resume.

  • Choose Active Voice and Avoid Buzzwords: This good resume writing tip, also applies to cover letters. Use an active voice to express yourself. Also, avoid using unnecessary jargons, clichés and buzzwords in your cover letter. The only exception to this is when such a jargon turns out to be a job-specific keyword.

  • Address It to a Specific Person: It is a great idea to get personal when it about creating great cover letters. Always address the letter to the hiring manager, who is handling the job opening you are applying to. This gives a personal touch to the letter and helps catch the attention of the hiring professional.

    Thus, try finding as much as you can about the organization and hiring manager. Check out employer’s official website or if needed, do not hesitate calling the company. You can also get some clue from the corresponding JD too

  • Avoid Being Too Formal: Despite the common advice of retaining the formal structure, avoid being too formal with your choice of words in your cover letter. A first-person narrative style is very much acceptable (though not in resumes).

    You can also use some colloquial terms and phrases to show your enthusiasm about the job as well as your human side.

  • Select the Right Font: Use fonts that are easy to read. A wrong font can be annoying to recruiters, no matter how great your content is. Usually, cursive and too fancy fonts disrupt readability; hence avoid using them.

  • Explain an Employment Gap, If Any: If you have an employment gap mentioned on your resume, try explaining it in the cover letter in short.

    You shouldn’t essentially bring this to the attention of the recruiter, but if you have a strong reason, such as volunteering or childbirth, it is never a bad idea to state the reasons behind such gaps.

  • Don’t Begin with Your Name: Besides being unnecessary, this is somewhat absurd too as your name is already there in your mail, resume and even at the top of your cover letter. So, starting the letter with your name is simply pointless

  • Start with an Impactful Sentence: Begin on the right note with a strong opening sentence or introductory paragraph. This will certainly compel the hiring manager to continue reading it further, and chances would then be high that he/she may consider going through your resume too immediately thereafter.

  • Present It the Right Way: It is indisputably the key to starting on the right foot. Strictly follow all the basic rules while drafting your cover letter. Keep your name and address at the top (in the right, left or center) along with phone number and email id.

    This should be followed by the recruiter’s name along with the company’s complete address, aligned left just over the salutation.

  • Make It More about the Employer: Instead of aimlessly explaining everything about you, concentrate on mentioning the ones that can let the recruiters know how well you are suited to the company with respect to experience and skills

    Also, study a bit about the company on its website or social media to get insights into its culture, language and tone. Make use of this knowledge to present yourself the way the company wants you to.

  • Do not Hesitate Writing about Yourself: If you really find it hard stating your qualities, achievements or exceptional skills, just think of those positive things about you that you have heard from your bosses, mentors and colleagues until now in your earlier roles

  • Consider Adding Testimonials: Although sparingly included in cover letters, positive feedbacks from clients, co-workers and managers can make a huge difference in portraying your passion and proven skills

  • Include Keywords to Pass Through ATS: ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System, an application software, which hiring managers use to narrow down the large pool of applications on the basis of several keywords relevant to the opening. So, do include them in your cover letters too.

  • Show Your Enthusiasm without Going Overboard: Employers actually don’t look for candidates, who just meet the job requirements or willing to do the job. They prefer people who are highly motivated, and enthusiastic about working in their organization.

    However, it is to be kept in mind not to go overboard with flattery, jokes or begging for a job. Showing them your interest is all okay but making them feel negative about you is never a great idea, especially if is about your dream job.

  • Keep it Chronological and Sensible: Never hop around from the past to present and then back to the past on your cover letter. This will do nothing but create a lot of confusion for the reader.

    For coherence, try mentioning your career growth in a chronological order, beginning from your first job (or the last relevant job) to the present one. Below is the proper way to present your career progression:

    • Past roles and accomplishments
    • Present roles and achievements
    • Skills you have acquired until now that make you an ideal candidate for the job opening
  • Explain How You are the Best Choice: Make use of the main body of your cover letter to briefly describe what value you would bring to the organization, if hired. As you do on your resume, quantify your accomplishments to show your prowess and skills relevant to the job opening.
  • Never Lie About Anything: You might think that it is okay to ginger up your cover letter by exaggerating a bit about you, your skills or even experience, just to catch the eye of the recruiter. But, remember that the truth will reveal sooner or later, only to sabotage all your efforts to get an interview call
  • Show How You are a Great Fit to the Culture of the Company: Apart from showing how you are best suited to the job, it is equally important to demonstrate that you are a wonderful ‘cultural fit’ too.

    Let your potential employers know that you share values similar to that of the company and you will seamlessly assimilate into the company’s work culture.

  • Just Be Yourself: As a person, just be honest on your cover letter. If you have a creative bent and the company, you are applying to, too appreciate creativity, it is never a bad idea to make your cover letter a bit unique in your own way.

    You can also add a dash of fun without going too far since most modern employers take it in a positive way. Well, how far you can go depends on the company, the hiring manager and of course, what you personally feel.

  • Give a Strong Conclusion Too: When you have been impactful throughout the cover letter, give a strong conclusion to leave a lasting impression on the hiring manager since this is your final chance to show your enthusiasm.

    Conclude with phrases like ‘Looking forward to hearing back from you’ or ‘Waiting for a positive response from your end at the earliest.’

  • Edit the Right Way: Why to take chance when you have put in all possible efforts to come up with the best cover letter! Once done, edit the content as suggested below:

    • Cut down or adjust the length as per the requirement

    • Proofread for grammatical and spelling errors (consider using tools like Grammarly)

    • Obliterate any vague or confusing statement

    • Replace overly used words

  • Use the P.S. Hack: This is a great way to grab recruiters’ attention. Use postscript (P.S.) to highlight something uniquely important, such as “Can join immediately’ or ‘Willing to relocate.’

  • Check for Anything Specific: Before sending the application email, with the cover letter and resume attached, make sure to re-scan the JD for anything specific that has been asked by the recruiter to include in the email body or subject line.
  • Get It Checked By Someone: Show your cover letter to a close friend and ask him/her to check for something unusual. Also ask your friend if it sells you as a perfect match for the job, and whether he/she finds the cover letter compelling.

    Your friend doesn’t need to be an expert, but sometimes a second opinion matters, just in case you missed or overlooked something.

Bottomline

While the above tips can certainly be your gateway to writing an imposing cover letter, these are not the only way. Most importantly, you cover letter should represent you professionally but always with a personal touch. It should also be tailored as per the specific requirements. So, customize your cover letter for every job opportunity you apply to.

Try to be just you, and keep the content concise and to the point. Lying, exaggerating your skills or excessive enthusiasm might work against you. Keep a perfect mix of formal and informal tones to grab the recruiters’ attention. This will improve the chances of getting your resume read by them, and take you a step closer to your dream job.