Working as a career development coach at Herzing University for the last eight years, I have gathered valuable expertise when it comes to creating job search documents, including cover letters.
A cover letter is a specific document that showcases additional information about your skills and relevant experience, but it’s not always required when applying for a position. In fact, many people question if submitting a cover letter is necessary when the job posting deems it optional. My advice is to always include a cover letter with your resume, even if it’s optional. A cover letter could end up being the deciding factor between getting selected for an interview or missing out on the position.
When it comes to writing a cover letter, however, there are a few do’s and don’ts to keep in mind that can help you develop the most effective letter that will set you apart from other candidates:
- Do personalize: Make sure you personalize your cover letter for the position you’re applying for and the company you’re applying to. This means you may have to do some research to find out who the hiring manager is so you can correctly address the person in the greeting. Personalizing your letter also means including any job codes or reference numbers mentioned within the job description.
- Do organize: A cover letter should contain three paragraphs: an introduction, a body and a conclusion. In the introduction, be sure to state the position you’re applying for while showing your enthusiasm and interest in the job. The body is considered the “core” of the document – this is where you showcase your skill and relevant experience. Don’t restate everything that’s on your resume, but instead highlight a key achievement from a previous organization that specifically pertains to the current job opening. The idea is to show the hiring manager that you are the best candidate for the role based on your previous success. The conclusion then wraps up your letter, expresses your enthusiasm and thank the employer for his or her consideration.
- Do proofread: Any spelling or grammatical errors, no matter how small, can be a major turn-off to potential employers. If you do have errors within your cover letter, this demonstrates a lack of attention to detail and could eliminate you from being considered for the position.
- Do keep it consistent: Make sure your cover letter has a similar look and feel like your resume. The heading should be listed the same way that it is on your resume and you should have the same size and font style throughout to demonstrate consistency and structure.
- Don’t go over one page: Keeping your cover letter to one page is a must. As a rule of thumb, your cover letter should never be longer than your resume.
- Don’t review your work history: There is no need to go through your entire work history in the cover letter – that’s what a resume is for! Instead, pick out the key accomplishments from your resume and describe them in greater detail in the cover letter.
- Don’t rely on spell check: Never assume that your computer’s spell check will catch any and all errors. Most of the time it’s not spelling errors, but grammatical errors that are missed. This reiterates the value of proofreading before sending the letter to the hiring manager. It’s always a good idea to have someone else proofread your letter as well.
- Don’t forget to edit: Always tailor your cover letter based on the job for which you’re applying. It’s common to do a “save as” of a previous cover letter, but make sure you’re not sending the letter with a different company name or hiring manager.
Cover letters can often be a deciding factor on whether or not you land an interview. Therefore, even if a job description says it’s optional to submit a cover, always do it! When written well, it’s an opportunity for a great first impression!
* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook 2021. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.