11. Don’t Underestimate What Your Cover Letter Can Do

Hopefully, you’ve been reading this column religiously. If you’ve been implementing my suggestions, you’ll now have a stellar resume and LinkedIn profile. Congratulations, you’re almost ready to conduct a serious job search. Yes, I said “almost.”

With fingers-crossed, hoping the answer will be “No,” every job seeker asks: Is a cover letter necessary?

Do hiring managers read cover letters in 2021? Not all of them, but many, such as I, still do.

Whether the hiring manager reads your cover letter shouldn’t be your focus. Your focus should be, why take a chance? In previous columns, I’ve mentioned there’s no universal hiring methodology; thus, there’s no hard rule a cover letter is essential; however, why wouldn’t you want to give yourself every competitive advantage possible?

A cover letter will never be held against you by a hiring manager who doesn’t read them, but for those who do, not having a cover letter can mean your resume will not be read. As much as possible, throughout your job search, you want to stack the odds in your favour of getting a “yes” to move forward in the hiring process.

A cover letter is non-negotiable if:

  • the job posting instructs applicants to include a cover letter with their resume (Many job seekers will still apply without a cover letter.),
  • if you’re applying directly to a particular person whose name you know, or
  • if someone has referred you for the position.

Cover letters have one job—to get the reader to read your resume. Suppose your resume’s recipient doesn’t know you (a likely case). Why should they read your resume over the hundreds of other resumes they receive, many accompanied with a cover letter?

I read cover letters to assess your writing skills, a skill I value highly, and how well you can sell yourself—it’s a critical component of my decision-making process. Call me old school, but I view not having a professionally written cover letter accompanying your resume as being lazy. I don’t hire lazy, and I don’t know any hiring manager who does.

The power of a cover letter is such that it’s worth noting there’ve been several times where I’ve granted an interview based on the candidate’s cover letter, even though their resume was far from impressive. Yes, a cover letter can make up for flaws in your resume.

Most importantly, use your cover letter to tell me something that isn’t on your resume that’ll help me decide you’re worth my time to interview—convince me!

How do you make your cover letter convince the reader to call you in for the interview? First, grab them at “Hello.” Next, draw them into your professional story, making sure you’re coming across as a solid “Yes” to each of these questions:

  • Can this person do the job?
  • Will this person be liked?
  • Will this person fit in? (Are they “one of us”?)

Your cover letter is your first opportunity to explain your value proposition (What you’re able to bring to the employer.) and therefore stand out from the many other candidates just as qualified as you. It’s also your chance to explain the reason(s) for any gaps in your employment and what you’ve been doing during the gap(s).

There are 5 parts to a cover letter:

  1. Header (your contact information)
  2. Greeting the hiring manager
  3. First paragraph (introduction) – Grab the reader’s attention with 2 – 3 of your top achievements.
  4. Second paragraph (sales pitch) – Persuade why you’re the right candidate for the job.
  5. Third paragraph (closing, call to action)

TIP: When writing your cover letter, get into a headspace of writing to provide the reader with a sense of who you’re going to be should they meet you (presuming you’re invited in for an interview). Don’t be afraid to convey your personality; it’s your most straightforward high yielding approach to standing out from your competition.

Next week I’ll be covering the first two parts (header, greeting the hiring manager) of crafting a cover letter that’ll get the reader to read your resume. In subsequent columns, I’ll discuss how to write the first, second and third paragraphs. Yes, there’ll be plenty of examples.

Nick Kossovan, a well-seasoned veteran of the corporate landscape, offers advice on searching for a job. You can send him your questions at artoffindingwork@gmail.com.