One of the questions I ask when I take a resume and LinkedIn profile order is “would you like a cover letter with that?” Jobseekers sometimes say “no one reads cover letters. Why should I prepare them?”
In fact, my research suggests that hiring teams may rely on cover letters, also called job search letters, to help them differentiate job candidates, although estimates on the percentage of managers that read letters vary. A recruiter that did a survey and posted the results online stated that 69% of her respondents read letters. Other estimates are lower.
You could lose an opportunity if you do not prepare a letter. The information and analysis you should do to build an effective letter will enhance your job search regardless of whether or not the hiring team reads it.
Here are a few cover letter tips:
- Establish your job target,
- Obtain contact information for the hiring team,
- Match yourself to the job posting, and
- Show you are qualified.
Preparing a cover letter will help you find a job faster because you will be ready to explain how your skills and experience match the job.
Establish your job target.
Know your job target before you get started on cover letters or any other aspect of your search. Recently, I received a cover letter email from a jobseeker with the subject line “looking for a job.” I had no idea what she was looking for. The only reason I read the letter is because I am in the business of helping jobseekers.
It’s worth reiterating that employers do not have an opening for “any job.” They have specific business problems and challenges to address, and they want to learn quickly whether you are the right person to address their needs. So, start with a specific job target in mind.
Obtain contact information for the hiring team.
Job leads often include links to online applications or general email addresses. This means you are applying for a job without enough information to follow-up with a member of the hiring team. As a result, it is worth gathering the information you need to address a formal cover letter.
Your first step might be to locate the company’s postal address. . This may be relatively easy. It can be more of a challenge to acquire the hiring manager’s name and title.
Company street addresses are commonly listed on their web sites. A Google search will probably find the address, too. The “old school” tactic of calling the company’s main phone number and asking for an address will often work, too. Your letter will have a professional polish when you include the address even though you will send it electronically.
Make certain to retain the company’s physical address in your job search database or spreadsheet for follow-up purposes. Record the company’s main phone number, too, so you can try reaching the hiring manager later in the process. You will also be in a better position to decide whether you want to work for the company when you know where they are physically located, even when you expect to work remotely.
Locating the hiring manager’s name and title can be more of a challenge because employers do not always provide this information in job announcements. LinkedIn is an excellent source for this information. You may be able to ask someone in your network for the name and title of a hiring manager if you cannot immediately find the correct person on LinkedIn.
There will be occasions when you will not find the hiring manager’s name and title despite excellent research. An alternative is to include the company address and then omit the salutation if you prepare a formal cover letter anyway.
Consider applying for the job anyway when you are a good match. Keep trying to identify a contact at the company so you can do meaningful follow up and increase your chances of being hired.
Match yourself with the job posting.
Frequently, I speak with jobseekers that tell me their resume is not working. They are clicking on job postings and sending resumes and applications in response to hundreds of daily job leads without results. When this happens, I look at the jobseeker’s resume, and ask them to show me examples of the jobs they are applying to fill. On several occasions, the jobseeker was applying for positions they don’t match.
Recent graduates, I have found, sometimes apply for jobs that require years of experience in the field. For example, a prospective client who just completed an advanced degree asked me to write a letter so she could apply for a job that required 10 years of industry experience. This would have been an exercise in futility since she lacked experience in the field. (I doubt that an advanced degree would be accepted as a substitute for 10 years of experience.)
It’s relatively easy to avoid wasting your time applying for jobs where you do not match the requirements. Put two columns on a page or screen—your requirements and my background. You will quickly see whether you are likely to be considered for the job.
There are ways, of course, to overcome deficits in your education or experience and land the job of your dreams anyway, but you should be realistic about the chances for a positive outcome.
Show you are qualified.
Your next step is demonstrating to the hiring team that you are qualified. Use the two-column worksheet you just filled in to decide whether you match the job well enough to apply for it.
For example, after reviewing a client’s worksheet, we recommended one client demonstrate her match for a specific job as follows:
“In reviewing the senior-level government affairs director opening posted on your website, I was happy to see an outstanding match between your requirements and the skills and experience I offer, as outlined below.
|Your Needs||My Qualifications|
|Have at least 3 years of legislative experience.||Have more than 18 years of experience representing 3 organizations.|
|Expected to work independently on the association’s many legislative and regulatory policies.||Secured passage of 9 landmark legislative initiatives at the Pennsylvania Statehouse while independently leading advocacy.|
|Be familiar with legislative tracking tools such as PLS and grassroots platforms.||Fostered grassroots issue advocacy by creating citizen action teams, and tracked results using online platforms.”|
The client ultimately landed a different, and even more prestigious job than the positions she applied for in this example.
We cannot promise you will be selected for an interview or land the job even if you do a detailed and accurate comparison of the written job requirements against your own credentials. Most of the time, there is no way to know what is going on inside the company you are applying to or whether the posted requirements match the skills and experience the hiring manager is really looking for. It’s fair to say, though, that your chances of being seriously considered, and then hired will improve.