Are cover letters still important? In a word, yes. Your cover letter provides the opportunity to connect your skills with the job qualifications the employer is seeking.
Your cover letter gives you the opportunity to make a match. It's your best chance to say "why you should hire me" and get you into contention for an interview. I asked leading resume and cover letter writers and career experts to share their best tips for writing cover letters.
Top 15 Cover Letter Tips for 2014
Add a Table to Your Letter
After your brief introduction, make a table with two columns. On the left, under the heading, "Requirements,” list several key requirements using language taken directly from the job description. On the right, under the heading, “My Qualifications,” list an accomplishment to correspond with each requirement. Nothing beats this for quickly and clearly demonstrating how well you match up.
Larry Braman, President, Global Career Consulting & Placement
Write a concise cover letter that will pique the interest of the reader to want to read your resume next, if they read your cover letter first. However, do not assume a hiring manager will read your cover letter first—ensure your resume can stand alone in conveying your value message.
Lisa Rangel, Chameleon Resumes
Be Specific About Your Qualifications
When applying for a position, prepare a cover letter that picks up 3 - 4 key qualifications listed in the job description and be very specific with regards to what you can offer pertaining directly to those qualifications.
Lori Dermer, Dermer Consulting
Close Your Cover Letter With a Call to Action
Close your cover letter with a "call to action." Don't close with something cliché like, "I hope to hear from you soon." Of course you do... along with the other dozens of candidates who are saying the same thing in their cover letters. Rather, state something like, “I’m excited about opportunities within your company and hope to explore contributions I can make. I’ll call you next week to, hopefully, talk further or set up a time to meet with you personally." Remember: Never leave the ball in the employer's court!
Charlene Holsendorff, Career Management Specialist, Ever After Communications
Connect Your Skills to the Job Requirements
Use the cover letter to connect your skills, experience, and education directly to the employer’s advertised requirements. In the work world, where each application receives a minute of review, make it as easy as possible for the potential employer to see that you are qualified for their job. You are much more likely to receive an invitation for an interview if you do the work for them.
Susan Heathfield, Human Resources Expert, About.com
Cover Letter Length
Your cover letter should always be less than one page. It will not be read if it is more, and make sure you are saying something specific about your qualifications for the job.
Jay Martin, Chairman, JobSerf, Inc.
Customize Your Cover Letters
You should customize your cover letter for every job, but if you are going to have form cover letters, at least make multiple versions that can be used for different types of titles, functions and industry situations. Many people don’t even make the effort to do this and basically restate their resume.
Jay Martin, Chairman, JobSerf, Inc.
Invest the Time
Clients tell me it feels like too much work to customize their resume and cover letter for each position to which they are applying. My response is that if you aren't landing job interviews now but you could start landing them by doing 20-30 minutes of customization per job, wouldn't that trade-off be worth it?
Janet Scarborough Civitelli, Ph.D., Career Coach, VocationVillage.com
Less is More
Cover letters are no longer signed, sealed, and delivered in the mail. Chances are the cover letter you write today will be emailed or uploaded electronically. Additionally, hiring managers and recruiters are wanting ever more substance in fewer words. In response, the cover letter is shrinking to accomplish only these goals:
- Personalization: Address your cover letter to a person, not "To Whom it May Concern."
- Connection: Tell how your qualifications are a good match for this company.
- Contact: List how to reach you.
Jeri Hird Dutcher, National Award-winning Certified Resume Writer, WorkwriteResumes.com
Make it Personal
Unlike a resume, your cover letter should be personalized and written in a first person point of view. Make sure to tailor your letter to the specific job posting using examples of special projects you’ve worked on, accomplishments you’ve achieved, and specific skills you’ve honed through your work history. Create excitement about your interest in the position and clearly state why you will be a superb addition to the employer’s team. Finally, close out your letter with a desire to speak further in person or over the phone with the recruiter or hiring manager you are addressing. Done right, a personalized cover letter can be the difference maker in landing your next interview.
John Scott, Career Advocate, Beyond.com - The Career Network
Save as a PDF
The benefits of saving both your cover letter and resume together as one PDF file (labeled with your name and indicating it contains both) are two fold. The first is that it makes sure that your resume isn't inadvertently changed or that the document format isn't corrupted on the recipients end. The second is that it reduces the chance that your cover letter and resume are separated. This is especially important if you are a entry level job seeker who is relying on your cover letter to make up for experience gaps and help you stand out to the hiring manager.
Sean Little, VP of Marketing, FirstJob
Showcase Your Personality
Showcase your personality. Most cover letters are boring and lack anything that makes them stand out. Showcase your enthusiasm, positive energy, and personality by stepping away from the standard formula and really writing from your heart. It might take more time to craft a letter this way, but it will definitely stand out to employers.
Sara Sutton Fell, Founder & CEO of FlexJobs.com
Show a Personal Connection or Interest in Your Work
Even if it is only in one sentence, explain why the type of work interests you. While employers want qualified applicants, they also want motivated people who like their work. Without using clichés, explain how using required job skills makes you feel. Personal experience or connection will help make you stand out. Example: “Because my parents are retired educators, I can relate to the challenges your customers face in their day to day work.”
Juliet Wehr Jones, Vice President, Career Key
Skip the Graphics
Two people I worked with recently had 'cute' pictures on their resume and cover letter. Do NOT do this, ever. The downside is that it is a distraction, appears unprofessional and shows poor judgment. The upside is, well, none. In years past people put their pictures on resumes, but this is also a huge red flag for EEOC issues. All options are bad in this area.
Jay Martin, Chairman, JobSerf, Inc.
Tell a Story
Cover letters are often used as a writing sample. How well do you communicate an idea or get your point across? Instead of summarizing your career history, tell a quick story of a project you worked on. Make sure it's clear why you're sharing - that is, the value or benefit to the organization.
Stacey Lane, Career Coach & Consultant
Best Cover Letters 2014
Here's more information on the best cover letters for 2014, including what employers expect, how to customize your letters, cover letter writing tips, and examples of interview winning cover letters.