Backpack to Briefcase: Are Cover Letters Still Relevant in the Digital Age?

If you question whether to send a cover letter with a resume, you are not alone. Many people believe that recruiters don’t read cover letters, so they don’t provide one when applying for a job. But, are you missing out on the opportunity to sell your communication skills? Yes!

Think about it: Nearly every job posting states that the organization seeks applicants with excellent communication skills. A cover letter allows you to showcase not only your writing ability, but your ability to persuade the reader to hire you.

After working in the field of human resources for most of my career, I can tell you that, although there are some recruiters who don’t read cover letters, the majority of HR professionals (and the C-Suite) DO read them. This is your opportunity to stand out from the other applicants. Even if the online job application only allows you to upload one document, make your cover letter the first page and your resume the second page of a single document.

Your cover letter should not simply say, “As you can see in my resume …” Show the reader exactly how you and your experience match the requirements listed in the job posting. Don’t force the reader to look through your resume to find out how you are qualified. Prove it in the cover letter.

For example, if the posting states that applicants must have a bachelor’s degree, three years of experience in marketing, the ability to speak Spanish, and experience with Excel, your cover letter can say something like this:

“My experience and education is an exact fit for your job requirements. I hold a Bachelor of Science in Business with a minor in Spanish, and studied abroad in Madrid for a semester. In addition, I earned a certificate for completing an advanced Excel course and use Excel on a daily basis. For the past four years, I have been employed as a marketing assistant by XYZ Association.”

See how that works? The reader knows that you are the perfect fit in one paragraph! This is not to say that your cover letter should contain only one paragraph, but it should show how you meet all of the requirements. Further, you can show that your past experience in marketing will benefit them in a specific way or with a certain product, based on your research of the organization. You might also tell about how you will fit in with their corporate culture. For instance, if the organization works with a certain charity, you could mention that you volunteered for that charity during college. Use the cover letter to show your initiative to learn about the organization.

Be sure to address your letter to a person, and never use “To Whom It May Concern,” or “Dear Sir or Madam.” A quick Internet search will allow you to find out the name of the Human Resources Director. Further, if you have an employee connection at the company, mention that in the first sentence: “My good friend Joe Brown, an employee in your accounting department, suggested I would be a good candidate for this position.” Recruiters appreciate employee referrals! If Joe Brown is an excellent employee, there is an assumption that Joe’s friends will be as well.

Here are a few additional tips about writing cover letters:

  • Use a standard business-style format.
  • Address letters to a particular individual, and use his/her correct job title.
  • Use the full mailing address of the organization.
  • Scan in your signature and use it in the signature line of letters.
  • Always send a letter with a résumé, never a résumé alone.
  • Don’t plagiarize letters out of books or from online sample letters. One employer I know recognized a letter he received had been taken word for word from an online sample.
  • Provide examples of a few of your accomplishments
  • Be sure there are no typos or incorrect grammar!
  • Don’t submit the same letter for every job. Every letter should be specific to how you meet the requirements for that position.

A well-written cover letter is a great way to make a positive first impression and can get you an interview more effectively than a resume alone. Good luck with your job search, and be sure to submit a cover letter for every application you submit!

Author Shelly Trent, CAE, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, is a career coach, speaker and writer whose books include “Humans@Work” and “Compassion@Work: Creating Workplaces that Engage the Human Spirit.”
Photo credit: ©iStock.com/PeopleImages

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