How important is a Cover Letter in 2021? – Part One
What is a cover letter? It is a document that you will submit alongside your resume when applying for a job. It enables you to introduce yourself as a professional, along with outlining why you are a good fit for the role before the hiring manager finds out more about you in your resume.
Research has indicated that not all candidates will create a personalised cover letter, so by writing one you will attract the attention of the reader. Not sending a cover letter is a sign of laziness. It’s akin to making spelling and grammar mistakes in your resume. You just don’t do it.
At Select Resumes, we’ve seen many candidates own cover letters. Many of them are written as if they were simply retelling in full sentences everything that has been included in their resume. But this makes no sense. Hiring managers will have skimmed through your resume already, and they don’t want to re-read it in prose form. Instead, approach your cover letter as a short essay. It needs to present a coherent, evidence-based response to one question above all: why would you be an excellent hire for this position?
In answering this, you may be surprised where the emphasis should be. It used to be the case that your cover letter was all about you, however, things have changed. In 2021, the modern cover letter should focus first and foremost on the company it’s directed to. Gone are the days where you could spend a few paragraphs detailing your own accomplishments. Today, you also need to amply demonstrate a genuine interest in the company and prove you know how to help it. In other words, you need to focus your cover letters on the company you’re applying to, not on you. Show how you can make a difference for that company.
That’s easier said than done, especially when you’re trying to distinguish yourself among dozens or possibly even hundreds of other applicants. For one thing, you need to do carry out a deep dive into the ethos and vision of the company you are targetting. Find out about their culture, where they’ve been, where they’re going. Are they part of a group? All these things you need to find out and seamlessly weave into the narrative of your cover letter – but without seeming as if you’re parroting their own website. It’s a fine line you’ll be treading, but it will pay dividends if you can word it perfectly. You also need to ensure that you are genuinely suited to and qualified for the role. Read the job description carefully and identify the top two or three qualities the company wants in a candidate. Then use your cover letter to demonstrate you have those skills, giving examples of when and how you’ve used them in the past. Show that you’re equipped to make a difference from day one.
Look carefully at the wording of the role description too. If the duties or qualifications are described as ‘essential’, then it’s vital you possess these and being brutally honest, if you don’t, you are probably wasting your time applying – these are non-negotiable’s you can’t dance around. However, if the qualities are described as ‘desirable’, then there’s a little wiggle room. You should have these skills or accreditations, but if you don’t, make sure you have qualities or experiences that very closely align with what’s asked.
Three to four paragraphs on one page is more than adequate. Use the first paragraph as an introduction, the second for the meat, and the third and fourth to wrap up. The hiring manager giving a first read to your letter is likely to spend 10 seconds or less on it. So they want to read something succinct.
Whilst the whole letter is what we like to call a ‘virtual handshake’ – the first paragraph is definitely so – a brief, upbeat statement introducing yourself, and why you see yourself as the perfect candidate for the position (and quantify the ‘why’). The second paragraph gives you a great opportunity to reflect the company’s vision as if it were your own. Here you can pick one or two of the key responsibilities the position requires, and give brief examples of when and how you’ve used them in the past. Show that you’re equipped to make a difference from day one.
Wrap up with a summary of your skills, qualifications, suitability for the role, and your passion. Be positive about the next step, ‘Looking forward to meeting you to discuss how I can be of benefit to ABC Ltd’. Remember – always avoid passive voice and use your active voice – especially here!
Next time, we will look at more examples of why the cover letter is as important and relevant in 2021 as it has ever been.