I recently went to the Partnerships for Employmentjob fair at RIM Park in Waterloo, Ont., to ask 20 recruiters and HR professionals if they read cover letters and, if so, what they are looking for.
Of the 20 employers I spoke with:
- 12 said they read the cover letter of each applicant
- of those 12, six read the cover letter before the resumé and four read the cover letter after the resumé
- four employers claimed they quickly scanned the resumé
- four employers admitted to not reading the cover letter at all
Only one employer out of the 20 I surveyed said they preferred to receive no cover letter. Whether it gets read, skimmed or ignored, it seems like the cover letter is still an essential part of a job application that shows you have made the time and effort to apply for the position.
Writing a cover letter can be tricky business. To identify some key cover letter do’s and don’t, I asked the same group of 20 employers what they look for in a cover letter.
Employers want to see these things in your cover letters:
- Include your degree title and school in the first paragraph
- Include the title of the position you’re applying for and the company name in the first paragraph
- Make a personalized letter, if possible (do not write, “To whom it may concern…”)
- List the company name and address in formal letter style
- Not more than one page
- No grammar or spelling mistakes
- Demonstrate knowledge of the company to show the recruiter you’ve done some research
- Create a targeted letter (if you’ve sent the same form letter to 10 companies, don’t expect a call back)
- Highlight related skills and experiences, but don’t copy word for word from your resumé
- Elaborate on related skills or experiences
- Include something unique about yourself
Based on the information I gathered from each employer, the most important part about writing a cover letter is to demonstrate that you have made a unique effort. Show the employer you understand what position you are applying for, what company you are applying to, and how your skills and experience relate to the job position.
This kind of research takes time and effort on your part, but can be easily recognized from a generic cover letter sent out to 10 different companies.
Although there is no perfect formula for writing a cover letter, if you are able to demonstrate your understanding and enthusiasm for the position and company you are applying to, you will be on your way to landing an interview.
Photo credit: Partnerships for Employment
What Is A Cover Letter?
The cover letter is an introduction to you and your unique combination of skills, knowledge, and abilities as they relate to the job. It gives you a chance to emphasize the qualities you possess and the experiences you have had which make you the ideal candidate for the position to which you are applying.
When Do I Use a Cover Letter?
Every time you apply for a job! Your cover letter and resume together constitute your application.
Basics of Writing a Cover Letter
Format your letter like a formal business letter.
Research before you write. Research the organization, the job, and your own skills.
Decipher the job ad so you can target your letter to the job.
Make sure the letter is reader centered; focus on what you can give them, not what they can give you.
Show your intent and enthusiasm, and highlight how the company will benefit from hiring you.
Ensure your letter is targeted to a specific employer and position and that you linked your examples and experiences to the job description.
Ensure there are no spelling or grammar mistakes.
How to Decipher a Job Posting
Tips on Writing a Cover Letter
Cover Letter Format and Content
Example Cover Letters
Cover Letter Train Wrecks