In 2020, the cover letter may seem like a quaint concept. After all, more often than not you’re submitting your resume electronically and putting it into an automated system that churns out keywords and data. Why bother with a specially written letter that’s intended to be seen by human eyes? But it’s that human touch that helps cover letters survive in today’s digital world. A cover letter is an opportunity to differentiate yourself, frame your qualifications, and yes—even fit in some more of those keywords.
Cover letters may not be required for every job application if you’re not using traditional mail, but they’re usually an option to submit, even to an automated engine. In a job search you should be grabbing every opportunity that comes along, so having cover letters ready to go can only help you.
Let’s look at the best kinds of cover letters for different types of job seekers.
The Classic Cover Letter
Every cover letter should have three main parts: an attention-grabbing opening line, a clear pitch, and a strong closing. The cover letter is a way to help build the narrative that your resume will support. So your opening should be punchy and stand out from the crowd. That means ditching “I am applying for a position at your company” in favor of an anecdote or a personal connection you have to the job or company. And when you’re opening your letter, always make sure it’s addressed to a person. Nothing will cause the reader to glaze over faster than, “To whom it may concern” or “Dear sir or madam.”
The second part of the cover letter is where you flesh out your pitch—why you’re a good fit for this job. It shouldn’t be a laundry list of everything you’ve ever done (after all, your resume follows the letter), but rather your elevator pitch for what qualifies you for this job in particular.
When you close out a cover letter, it’s important to show next steps (like “I look forward to hearing from you”) or a statement of how you feel you can contribute to this organization or role. It’s also crucial to thank the person reading it. Cover letters are a step beyond for busy hiring managers, so showing a little graciousness and politeness here is a great way to finish the letter.
Here’s an example classic cover letter:
Dear Ms. Brooks,
When I was a child, I would run to the mailbox to get my issues of American Kid magazine that came in the mail. It was the highlight of my week! When I saw that American Kid is seeking a senior graphic designer, I was so excited that I essentially dropped everything to run to the mailbox again, so to speak.
I have more than 15 years’ experience as a graphic designer, leading teams and coordinating complex projects on incredibly demanding deadlines. Working on prominent newsweeklies and industry-specific publications has given me the ability to produce results fast and on-point.
I would love to hear more about this opportunity with your organization and would like to schedule a call to discuss at your convenience.
By taking that basic template and making a few tweaks to the main body, you can tailor your cover letter to meet several different job search needs.
The Employment Gap Cover Letter
One of the biggest assets of a cover letter is that it gives you a chance to explain gaps or other issues in your resume. That way, rather than a reader noticing a gap and raising an eyebrow, you’re getting in front of it by explaining the issue.
After spending a year caring for a family member, I’m ready to jump back into the full-time graphic design world. In the time since my last position as a designer, I’ve stayed active as a freelancer and continually built my skills to keep up with the ever-evolving trends in the field.
You don’t have to go into too much detail, but it’s an opportunity to frame your work history and current situation on your own terms.
The Results-Oriented Cover Letter
In many fields, like finance or sales, you have to be able to show that you’re results-driven and successful. That means being very specific about what you’ve achieved. Your resume will ideally have numbers as well, but the cover letter lets you create kind of a highlight reel of your best stats.
In the past three years, I’ve demolished every sales target I had. In 2017, I increased sales revenue by 7%%. In 2018, it was 9%, and in 2019 it was 11%. My team led our region in sales for more than five years.
Cover letter readers have limited time, and numbers and statistics are a great way to pull the eye toward the most important information.
The Career Change Cover Letter
When you’re changing careers your resume is in a tough spot: you have experience, but it’s not necessarily the experience in your new chosen field. The cover letter lets you show how your existing experience and skills would apply to this new job.
In my long experience as a retail manager, I gained valuable insight into what it takes to motivate a team and accomplish group goals in a demanding, fast-paced environment. Although I’ve left the retail world behind for the greener pastures of accounting, the project, and people management skills I built throughout my career fit well with my new path.
As with an employment gap, this frames you and your experience for the reader, instead of leaving them to make their own assumptions or connections based on your resume alone.
Even if a cover letter isn’t required for a particular job application, you should still continue writing one anyway. In a competitive job search, the care and information you put into your cover letter can be what makes all the difference between getting an interview and staying in the “maybe” pile.
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