Yes, we all hate them. Yes, they were the bane of my existence while I was job searching, how did you know?!
Unfortunately, cover letters are a necessary part of applying to jobs, and also an important one. Along with your Resume, your cover letter can set the tone for your whole application package. However, they can be tricky and ambiguous, to say the least. In my personal experience alone, I have seen countless methods of writing cover letters, and I have course, tried the majority of them.
One of the most common issues I have picked up on is that of length. Unlike the resume, which could potentially be 1-2 pages, the cover letter should ALWAYS be one. There’s really no need to add the extra fluff and ramble on for more than a short paragraph or two.
As disheartening as it is, I believe most employers skim cover letters and resumes, especially when they have a huge influx of applications. All the more reason to use those buzz words! Read through the job descriptions of jobs you’re applying for, and include some of it in your cover letter. No, don’t copy it word-for-word; that my friends is called plagiarism. But, for example, one of the many jobs I applied for had a lot to do with student transcripts, schedules, records, etc. Am I an expert, no, but I at least have some experience with those things. And that’s all you really need to say: “I am familiar with…” “I have dealt with…” This leaves it somewhat open and gives you a chance to elaborate when you get called in for an interview. However, as I said in my post about resumes: Don’t Lie! Don’t say that you’ve done something or worked with a certain program or application when you really haven’t. Inevitably, that is what someone will ask you about, and it will look really bad when you have no idea what to say.
Now for the good stuff: format.
A basic cover letter has a pretty simple format.
The biggest thing I can say is, don’t ramble. Be clear and concise in your cover letter; you’ll have the opportunity to elaborate in the interview, and even on your resume. Also, if by chance you’re snail-mailing your application packet to a prospective employer, make sure you leave a big enough space between “Sincerely” (or whatever closing you choose) and your name so you can put your signature there. Yes, it’s a little old school, but it also looks professional.
Another popular complication with cover letters is personalizing them for each job you’re applying to. Yes, that is more work, and yes, there is somewhat of a shortcut in doing this. Assuming that the majority of the jobs you’re looking at are relatively the same, or at least in the same industry, I believe it’s okay to have one cover letter that you simply tweak a bit. For School Counseling jobs, I had one cover letter that I worked off of for pretty much all of them. Your introductory paragraph can essentially stay the same, except for the name of the position and employer, of course. Don’t forget to change that, as well as the address where the cover letter is going. Seriously, DON’T FORGET. I’ve unfortunately done it, and needless to say, I did not get an invitation to interview. The middle paragraph is important to switch around also. If the jobs you’re applying for require the same skills and experience, great, but like I’ve said, pay attention to how each job description is worded, and adjust your buzz words accordingly.
For now, this is my advice to you all. Like the resume, there are different types and formats of cover letters as well, but I will be dedicating another post to exploring those in more detail. Talking about yourself and your accomplishments is never easy, but in the job search, it becomes a requirement. Practice, try to get used to it, and if all else fails, fake it till you make it!