Did you wear clothes to your last job interview? Silly question, right? As unthinkable as it would be to arrive nude to an interview, you are essentially committing the same faux pas when you send your resume to a potential employer unaccompanied by a well-written cover letter.
Three Indisputable Truths About Cover Letters
Whether we’re talking about a cover letter or your best interview suit, three indisputable truths apply.
First, like a good interview suit, a cover letter is essential. At some point in your life before you embarked on your career, a wise person advised you to purchase a quality business suit. And you did just that. Somewhere in your closet hangs the black, navy blue, or gray suit you’ve reserved for your interviews. No employer needs to tell a rational candidate that professional dress is expected for the interview. Even in creative industries, it is understood that the candidate should wear a business suit, although more latitude is given for color and style choices than in traditionally conservative fields. Similarly, unless the job announcement indicates otherwise, a potential employer expects that the applicant will provide a cover letter. Although the announcement may not explicitly state that a cover letter is preferred, it is always good practice to include one if for no other reason than to demonstrate how effectively you can communicate your ideas and thoughts in writing.
Second, a cover letter complements your resume. One goal of any interview is to project a confident demeanor and a polished appearance. In preparation for your interview, you’ll have your suit dry cleaned, the hems mended, and any loose buttons secured. You may also starch your shirt or blouse and polish your shoes. To complete your ensemble you’ll carefully select the perfect accessory, perhaps a gold watch, pearl necklace, or leather attache´. Just as the right accent piece can enhance your interview attire, so, too, can a well-written cover letter add to the attractiveness of your resume. When you lay out your wardrobe for your upcoming interview, you would not plan to wear two shirts, two suit jackets, and two pair of pants. Likewise, your cover letter should not merely be a duplication of the information included in your resume. Think of your cover letter as the finishing brushstrokes on a painting masterpiece.
Third, a cover letter is tailored. Your interview suit is tailored to fit you perfectly. The pants are neither too short nor are the jacket sleeves too long. You could lend your suit to a friend, but it wouldn’t look nearly as wonderful on him or her because it has been tailored for you. In like manner, the most effective cover letters don’t read as though they could fit any and every position. Instead, they are individualized to fit the specific position for which the applicant is applying. In other words, if you are submitting your resume for ten different positions, you need to write ten different cover letters. Nothing signals a questionable work ethic more to a potential employer than receiving a generic, cookie cutter cover letter where it appears the applicant did little more than change the date and cut and paste the addressee’s contact information.
The COVER Formula to Writing a Cover Letter
Writing the perfect cover letter doesn’t have to be an ordeal. In fact, it can be as easy as spelling C-O-V-E-R. COVER is an acronym for a five-step paragraph-by-paragraph approach you can use to write an effective cover letter. Over the next few pages, I will show you how you can use the COVER formula and the announcement for the position for which you are applying as a handy guide to craft the perfect complement to your resume.
To illustrate how this works, we’ll use an actual job announcement that was recently posted on a popular online job site. The entry level position was for a human resources assistant cv sample at an Atlanta consulting company that, for purposes of this article, we’ll refer to as ABC Consulting. Assume you’ve read the job announcement and wish to apply for the position. Your resume is ready. Now, let’s write the cover letter!
Step One: Cultivate a CONNECTION in the first paragraph. The C in the COVER formula stands for connection. Step one in creating the perfect cover letter is to establish a connection in the first paragraph. When you are introduced to someone, you engage in conversation to get to know the person better and discover what the two of you have in common. The same principle holds true when cultivating an authentic connection with a potential employer.
To build a connection with an employer, you need to conduct what I call intelligence. Intelligence is conducted on three distinct levels: (1) the company or organization at which you would be working; (2) the specific department or division in which you would be working; and (3) the individual(s) for whom you would be working. Doing your homework on a prospective employer serves a dual purpose. First, educating yourself about a company will help you better assess if the company’s mission, values, and culture are compatible with your own goals and working style. Second, if you decide there is a good fit, the person reading your cover letter or sitting across the desk from you during the interview will be impressed that you took the initiatve to investigate the company for which you aspire to work. I suggest creating a file (as simple as a manila folder) for each company you research where you can organize your notes, store your printouts, and save your correspondence. This way all your vital information will be in one place for quick reference and easy retrieval later.