by Alexandra Janvey, Head Editor, INALJ Iowa
Crafting a Superb Cover Letter
Cover letters are an important part of the job application process. Your cover letter can have a very strong influence on prospective employers, as it’s the first item employers read. Therefore, your cover letter is the basis of the prospective employer’s first impression. A well-written cover letter can make an applicant stand out from the crowd, while a letter that’s poorly written can hurt your chances of getting hired. Your cover letter must grab the reviewer’s attention; otherwise, the accompanying resume may never be reviewed.
The benefits of sending a cover letter are numerous. The letter serves a different purpose from the resume. It can be used to convey points and information that cannot be accurately conveyed in the resume. The cover letter ought to be viewed as a supplement to the resume, allowing a candidate to offer an in-depth explanation of why they are the best choice for the position. The cover letter also offers an ideal opportunity to address any issues that may require further explanation such as gaps in employment history, frequent job changes or lack of a skill. You can also use the cover letter to demonstrate soft skills such as good communication, writing ability, enthusiasm and organizational skills, which are critically important to many employers.
A cover letter should be brief, succinct, and broken into small paragraphs that are easy to read. It must be tailored to the specific position that you’re applying for, as it must highlight relevant experience and skills. Hiring managers don’t have time to read through long cover letters from all each and every applicant, so it’s important to catch the reviewer’s attention. This is a chance to demonstrate your ability to follow directions and pay attention to detail. By carefully reading the job listing and creating a relevant, customized cover letter, you are effectively demonstrating these abilities.
The basic structure of a cover letter includes brief paragraphs, which are organized into an introduction, body and closing. You should always include your name, the position for which you’re applying and how you learned of the open position (www.indeed.com, listserv, INALJ). The body is the meat of the document, where you should discuss what makes you the most qualified candidate for the job. It’s an also an ideal opportunity to express the value that you would bring to the business, organization or individual. Use the job posting as a guide for writing the cover letter, matching the listed qualifications with your own. Also, use similar terminology and do your best to address the cover letter to a specific individual. At times, a specific individual is listed in the job posting; in other cases, you may opt to perform a bit of research in an attempt to determining the hiring manager’s name.
Proofread and then proofread again. I cannot emphasize the tremendous importance of proofreading your work, especially when applying for a job. Submitting a cover letter full of spelling and grammatical errors is an easy way to ensure your application gets rejected. Never write your cover letter and proofread in one sitting, as it’s easy to miss errors. Take a break, allow your eyes to rest and then proofread with “fresh“ eyes. Use the proofreading method that works best for you. Read it in your head, read it aloud, ask someone else to read over the cover letter, or do all of the above.
The biggest mistake a job applicant can make is to omit a cover letter. It should always be included, even if it’s not asked for in the job posting. Cover letters are one of the many tools available to job seekers. Just writing a cover letter shows initiative and it can set you apart from other applicants from the very beginning. It’s a powerful tool that job seekers should take advantage of in order to market themselves in a tough economy.