By Mark Swartz
Monster Contributing Writer
Should you bother writing a cover letter? It’s a question being asked often these days. With the popularity of social profiles and resume scanning, cover letters are under scrutiny.
Candidates wonder if it’s worth the effort: maybe their carefully crafted letter won’t get read. Recruiting firms might only pass it on to employers if asked for one; if employers are swamped with resumes, they may consider the cover letter unnecessary.
Yet strong arguments remain in favour of preparing a tightly written cover letter. Here’s what three Canadian specialists have to say.
Always Write a Cover Letter Even If You Don’t Send One
Tara Orchard is a career coach and social media specialist. Now located in Winnipeg, her wide-ranging clientele is from across the country.
According to Tara, it is always useful to create a formal cover letter. “Although you may decide not to include a copy with your application, it forces you to focus on the key points of who you are and what you have to offer.”
Tara adds that parts of the cover letter can be applied for other purposes. “Portions can be inserted into your social media profiles, used for introducing yourself while networking, or when replying during interviews.”
She suggests that you include a cover letter when responding to posted advertisements. Also when making unsolicited applications to employers. That way you cover your bases if one is required.
As for style, “I prefer first person conversational,” says Tara. “For instance, my phrasing would be ‘I am an accomplished motivator’ rather than starting with ‘Ms. Orchard is…’” Letting some of your personality show can serve to humanize you. See these Monster cover letter examples for reference.
If You Do Send a Cover Letter, Make Sure It’s Well Written
Howard Scholl is a senior IT recruiter in Montreal. He works at MaxSys Staffing & Consulting, which operates in 12 cities around Canada.
“There are two streams of thought regarding cover letters,” says Howard. “If written compellingly, they’re a powerful tool to help secure an interview. But if done poorly you could knock yourself out of the running.”
A well-written cover letter does the following, according to Howard: it complements your resume and social media presence, pulling out the highlights most relevant to the position you’re applying for; and it should include some evidence that you have researched the employer.
“Correct grammar and spelling are also important when evaluating your application,” Howard says. He’s seen many instances where qualified candidates harm their chances by not proofreading adequately. That affects the impression an employer will form.
Howard points out that typical IT applicants rarely include a cover letter. Employers care more about qualifications and experience. However this changes at more senior levels of information technology. Job seekers for those positions should show they can express themselves clearly. “IT directors, senior project managers and executives must be able to articulate more than their certifications and technical skills.”
Customize Your Content and Cover Any Gaps
Daisy Wright is the author of two respected career books, No Canadian Experience, Eh? and Tell Stories, Get Hired. She operates out of the greater Toronto area.
This specialist agrees that debate over cover letters continues. Some employers want them, others do not. “For example,” says Daisy “if you apply for a job with the Ontario government, they ask that you include a cover letter in the same file as your resume. Whereas the municipal government where I live, in Brampton, only wants a resume.”
Due to these varying preferences, Daisy recommends sending a cover letter unless the employer specifies otherwise. “Beyond responding to a job and using language from the posting, you can explain any gaps or special situations revealed by your resume.”
This can refer to job-hopping, or time off for things like a sabbatical or family care. Addressing these in the cover letter lets you explain the circumstances.
An alternative to a full cover letter is an e-mail cover note instead, observes Daisy. “Many people will take time to read a concisely worded e-mail, especially if it has a gripping subject line.” So consider including three shortened, customized paragraphs of your cover letter in the body of that e-mail. Then mention that your resume is attached.
“You can spice up the cover letter by opening with an attention-grabbing question or very short story,” adds Daisy. “Done right it can stand out and put you top of mind.”
While cover letters can at times seem rather redundant, they are, in fact, the first thing that a prospective employer looks at when thinking of hiring you. So, a cover letter not only adds on to your CV, but acts as an introduction of who you are as a person, before the certificates and credenti
While cover letters can at times seem rather redundant, they are, in fact, the first thing that a prospective employer looks at when thinking of hiring you. So, a cover letter not only adds on to your CV, but acts as an introduction of who you are as a person, before the certificates and credentials are laid bare in the resume.
Similarly, in case you have a splendid CV but your cover letter isn't up to the mark, there is a high chance the employer won't even open your resume, but instead move on to the next application.
Compiled below are the most important tips and tricks to keep in mind when framing your cover letter:
1. Don't repeat your resume:
Your cover letter is not the paragraph form of your resume. The technical details regarding your job experience is already listed out in your resume. What is not mentioned are the skills you learnt via those certificates and degrees. Write down what exactly you are capable of.
2. Work experiences matter more:
Work experiences are more important than the educational qualifications you might possess. Use your cover letter to show your interest and passion regarding whatever you have done which can count as an experience. However, take care not to draw attention to your weaknesses; play by your strengths.
3. Tell your tales:
Use tales from your stock of real-life experiences to talk about your skills. While numbers and stats are good on a CV, a cover letter is more about the human touch. If you have any personal attachment to the company, its commercials or products, do mention it in your cover letter. Write about how you felt when you were reading for your research paper or when you got the chance to interview a famous personality. Be descriptive rather than using stock adjectives, but don't go over-the-top.
4. Use recommendations and anecdotes:
Recommendations always help in giving that extra push to your CV. Use anecdotes from previous bosses or ex-employees talking about how you are a positive addition to the company or the team. The recommendation letters and experience letters attached to your CV will help prove your point.
5. What can you give to the company:
Your employee knows what the company can give you. Focus more on what you can give to the company. The best way is to carefully go through the job profile they are hiring for and succinctly correlate your own skills to the company's demands to showcase yourself as the perfect fit for the job.
6. Use an informal tone:
The tone of the letter should be informal, without becoming too casual. It should be conversational, but smartly so. Don't go overboard while explaining how "extremely excited" you would be to work for the company or how "absolutely thrilled" you are to apply. If the company is known to use a certain 'voice', use that tone in your letter. Use correct grammar.
7. Make sure you stand out:
Your cover letter, while being tailored for the company you are sending it to, also needs to stand out just like your resume. If you are applying for a corporate sector, be traditional in your framing and writing; but if you are hoping to get into a creative sector, you can shake up the basic formatting rules. Use video and audio inputs in your cover letter and use it as a small platform for your creative skills. Use ready templates or create your own. You can also think of giving it a headline such as '5 Reasons I am the best fit as a Graphic Designer'
8. Use specific greeting:
Find out who will be reading your cover letter and address it to the specific person. The employer must not feel that you are sending across a stock letter. If you are unable to find that out, avoid the generic "Respected sir/ma'am" greeting and instead, dive in straight to the content.
9. Proper formatting is important:
A .pdf format is the best for your cover letter as it can be opened by almost anyone. Moreover it gives you increased control on how your letter looks on another screen. Apart from this, you can use .doc formats rather than .docx. An automatic formatting change due to incompatible formats can largely change the way your letter was meant to look in the first place.
10. Succinct writing, succinct ending:
End your letter by quickly explaining what you hope to learn from the company and what this job can mean to you. Do not give this portion too much space as it can go against you. The complete letter must be on the shorter side-- about half a page-- yet, engaging.