Is Writing a Cover Letter Necessary?
When you have spent hours working on your resume, it is fair that you may be confident that it will land you the job you always wanted. Or, at the very least, open the door to an interview. You are done, right? Is writing a cover letter necessary?
Before we answer this very important question, let’s dig into what the hiring manager does (or doesn’t do) with cover letters.
Do hiring managers even read cover letters?
It depends on how it is written. Note that I didn’t state how well it was written…it is about the approach the candidate takes when writing it. What I can state with confidence is that overall, if a cover letter is provided, the recruiter or hiring manager will at least start reading it.
However, I will be the first to admit that I often abandon someone’s cover letter after just a few lines. If you want to ensure your cover letter is read, the key is to ensure it grabs the hiring manager’s attention and keeps it.
But isn’t the practice of writing a cover letter outdated?
With digital recruiting becoming more popular, many recruiters will tell you that cover letters are being phased out. We disagree and would call this advice a job search myth. We believe so strongly in cover letters that if you don’t provide one, or provide a poorly written one, we will write one for you.
For every position.
If written effectively, a cover letter will motivate hiring managers to shortlist you as a top candidate. And that means you are more likely to progress to an interview. This also means that even if a cover letter isn’t required, providing an effectively written cover letter will make you a more competitive job seeker.
What Should Be Included in Your Cover Letter
Before you start writing your cover letter, I recommend you consider something… remember that this job application isn’t just about you. While you certainly want to include personal skills, qualities, and attributes you feel the hiring team should notice, don’t commit the blunder of making that cover letter all about you.
Your resume is about you. The cover letter is about the company.
When I read a cover letter that was written from the candidate’s ego, I tire of it quickly and will typically trash it. Also note that when the cover letter becomes a simple repetition of your resume, you just wasted your time writing it and I just wasted my time attempting to read it.
How to approach writing the cover letter.
You need to be cognizant of the fact that the position is open because the company has a need. And guess what? The hiring team will be interested in prioritizing candidates who are sensitive to the company’s needs.
Therefore, there are two critical things you should do before you put pen to paper.
Find something about the company that excites you.
There has to be something particular about this company that resonates with you.
Perhaps you love the company’s flagship product because you want to be a part of curing cancer (kidney disease, MS, insert disease here). Or, you appreciate the mission the company represents because it matches your moral values. Maybe you really dig the charities they support, their involvement in the community, or they serve an underserved patient population. It doesn’t matter what the topic is as long as the topic matters to you.
Identify tasks within the job description that excite you.
Writing a cover letter goes further than simply copying and pasting the job description qualifications into the letter (or resume for that matter) and writing out how you match them. Of course, you want to document how your skills and qualifications will fit the company’s needs but don’t underestimate how critical it is to show the enthusiasm you have to perform those tasks included in the job description.
A Cover Letter Sample
A candidate I recently coached permitted me to use his cover letter as an example. Let’s comb through some ‘before and after’ content to better represent the above points.
His original salutation:
To the Hiring Manager
The salutation is always a tricky thing, isn’t it? But what if the person receiving this cover letter isn’t the hiring manager?
I often receive inquiries titled ‘Dear Sirs’. I never progress candidates who have started out their cover letter with such an incorrect and generic salutation. Why? The point of a cover letter is to get personal and when you trip over the opening salutation by being thoughtless and transactional, you show me that you aren’t a critical thinker. And, by sending me a letter titled ‘Dear Sirs’, you are showing me that even when you should be on your best behavior you revert to pattern and habit.
It is highly unlikely that you will know who the hiring manager is at this stage of your job application but remember this: every hiring manager wants to hire critical thinkers and problem solvers. Therefore refrain from using generic salutations. A better approach is to tailor the salutation every single time. And if you aren’t sure who the hiring manager is or are unable and unwilling to change that “Dear Hiring Manager” to ‘Dear Ms. Roberts”, then consider leaving the salutation off and instead focus this section on the actual topic: You.
This means that instead of a typical salutation you add something like:
RE: The candidacy of [insert your name here]
As an experienced clinical research professional and public health advocate, the opening for a Clinical Manager with xx sparked my interest. When reviewing the position requirements and your organization’s website, I was excited to find that my qualifications and personal strengths align with your needs and mission.
This isn’t a poorly written introduction, but writing a cover letter from ego is a flawed approach. It bears repeating that in today’s market, you must remember that your job application isn’t just about you. The company opened up this position to answer a need that the company has. Therefore, while everything he stated should be included in his cover letter, it will be a more powerful introduction to first speak to what you love about the company or project, why you want to be a part of the company or project, and what you feel you can contribute to that company and project.
It is essential to be specific. As with the salutation, the cover letter is something you tailor for every single application and it will be most effective when it illustrates your energy and passion. After all, Hiring Managers want to hire people who love what they do!
A more powerful introduction would be:
I saw your company’s posting for a Clinical Manager with the xx project and could hardly wait to apply. I have been following [list the company name here] for [xyz years] and love the company’s mission of [insert what resonates with you here].
Becoming a part of your team has been a goal of mine for quite a while and I would very much like an opportunity to discuss my skills as well as how I feel I can contribute to the [insert company’s / project’s / team’s] overall goals.
When reviewing the position requirements and your organization’s website, I was excited to find that my qualifications and personal strengths align with what I understand your needs and mission to be. I have honed my abilities in [move into the body by inserting relevant skills here].
See the difference?
His original closing:
Please review my enclosed resume for a more in-depth illustration of my work history and accomplishments. I would appreciate the opportunity to interview at your earliest convenience. I’m eager to discuss how my personality and skills fit the Clinical Research Management role.
Thank you for your time and consideration of my candidacy and I hope you are having a great day!
A more powerful closing may be:
My tweaks were slight, but changed the tone somewhat by further expressing excitement, enthusiasm, flexibility, and interest in the role.
In the hopes of further discussion, I am including my resume which represents a more in-depth illustration of my work history and accomplishments. I am eager to discuss how my personality and skills fit the Clinical Manager role with the xx project and will make myself available to interview at your earliest convenience.
Thank you for your time as well as for the consideration of my candidacy. I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Additional Considerations When Writing A Cover Letter
- Ensure your cover letter has your contact information on it. Many of the cover letters I see do not have the same or similar contact information as is provided on their resume. What if the cover letter gets separated from the resume? All of your efforts will have been wasted if the hiring manager or human resources personnel can’t get in touch with you.
- If you have branded your resume, apply the same formatting to your cover letter. Same colors. Same headers. Same font. Same spacing. Details are important!
- Avoid contractions. I don’t know why this bugs me but I feel it is much cleaner to state “I am” rather than “I’m”.
- Properly use tabs. This candidate used spaces rather than tabs to start his paragraphs and this is a huge flag for many hiring managers. Incorrect uses of bullets and tabs will cause any recruiter or hiring manager to question your ability to properly write reports and letters.
- Keep it short and simple – no longer than one page.
- Your cover letter should complement, not duplicate, your resume.
When you follow these guidelines, you will be better able to effectively showcase your skills and experience. And remember, when you work with craresources, we will help you optimize your resume and cover letter so that you can put your best foot forward.