The Anatomy of a Cover Letter
The purpose of a cover letter is to provide potential employers with additional information on your skills, abilities, and/or experience and why you are uniquely qualified for the job.
A well written cover letter showcases your communications skills, is concise, and does not use overly formal language. Forbes offers a great article speaking about the pitfalls of being over the top in writing your cover letter.
There are three types of cover letters used in the job search. They are:
- Matching – matches the requirements of the position to your qualifications
- Targeted – used when you know the company you are applying to and can use highlights of qualifications statements to describe your credentials
- Referral – you have been referred by someone who knows the employer
Today, we will focus on targeted cover letters because they are straightforward and a good choice for those just starting their careers. Your goal is to sell yourself and yet be conscious of the employers’ time, show your personality without being ‘over the top’, and provide additional insight not found on your resume.
Here are some considerations to keep in mind when crafting your targeted cover letter:
Content Is King
When thinking about writing the content of your cover letter, you may be thinking what’s in it for me (WIIFM)? What does this employer have to offer me? Why should I work for them? While this is an important line of self-assessment after being given a job offer, now is the time to focus on writing your letter using reverse psychology. Because, employers are also asking themselves WIIFM? They are wondering what you can offer to their organization if they hire you. Employers want to know what your motivation is for applying and if they believe you will fit in with their organization’s culture and values. How can you show this in a cover letter? Make sure you do your research about the organization and the position. Connect the dots for them; explain why you are interested in them.
Refer to the middle paragraph of the sample cover letter provided in this article for an example of how to draw a direct connection between what employers are seeking and what you can do for them. Content is king so make your words count.
Another thing to consider when writing is incorporating some of the keywords found in the job description. The best place to find keywords is in the required qualifications section. They are important because they directly tie to the skills sought and have an additional purpose. Online recruitment systems utilize keywords found in the job description to search on those same keywords in applicant resumes and cover letters. Utilize them in a way that has impact and matches your qualifications.
Visual Appeal & Accuracy
It may seem obvious, yet I can’t tell you the number of cover letters I have seen that contain spelling errors and use poor grammar. Accuracy is something I stress constantly with students I advise at Johnson & Wales University. Formatting your letter to be visually appealing is also important. A left-justified letter with space between paragraphs is clean and easy to read. And don’t forget to match the font used in your cover letter with the same font choice used on your resume. Some good font choices include Calibri, Arial, and Verdana because they read well online and have a clean professional look to them. Your goal here is to present a cohesive looking package that shows them your attention to detail. Not taking the time to do this could leave the employer questioning what kind of attention to detail you would give to the job itself.
Be Prepared for Subjectivity
My final piece of advice on cover letters is that they are subjective. Some employers require a cover letter and use it as a way to gauge your written communications skills and attention to detail while other employers prefer not to receive or read a cover letter. How do you know? It’s best to have a cover letter prepared that is customized for the position you are seeking. Once you are applying for a particular position, follow the instructions provided. If they ask for a cover letter, be sure to provide one. If they don’t ask then don’t include one. Why? If you provide a cover letter that isn’t requested, you risk the employer’s subjectivity that you didn’t follow directions by including something they didn’t ask for.
Good luck in your search!
This article was written by Johnson & Wales University assistant director of career services, Donna Remington, MBA, CD. Johnson & Wales University is a DECA National Advisory Board partner and a Corporate Social Media Correspondent. Learn more about JWU here and follow JWU on Twitter @johnsonandwales.