These days, a cover letter is more likely to be sent digitally than physically, but it's still your first opportunity to give a hiring professional a more complete picture of who you are and explain why you're a great match for the job. The cover letter is where you go beyond merely recapping your skills, accomplishments, and employers, and sell the hiring manager on why you're the best fit for the job. Here's some advice on creating a cover letter that's the perfect complement to your resume and LinkedIn profile.
Personalize the letter: Many job listings don't include the name of the hiring manager or recruiter — but that shouldn't stop you from hunting for the correct name, which is sure to impress the recipient. They're going to receive a slew of cover letters addressed to “Dear Sir/Madam,” so a personal salutation will help your job application stand out from the crowd. Jobs on LinkedIn usually include a link to the job poster's profile, making it easy to determine who to address the cover letter to.
Use language from the job listing: There are a couple of good reasons to incorporate important keywords from the job posting in your cover letter. First, hiring professionals want to know that you've actually read the listing and are responding directly to the job requirements rather than sending out a one-size-fits-all cover letter. Second, they may use online tools to search job applications for certain keywords to narrow down responses to those respondents who have the required skills.
Research the company and the market: Display your excitement for the role and the company by revealing what you know about them — you'll show the hiring professional that you're highly interested and a good fit. Browse the business' Company Page or join relevant groups on LinkedIn to see what's new. Read discussions to uncover what hot-button issues the business is involved in, or if it's planning to introduce new products or expand geographically.
You can use this information to start a conversation in your letter — one that could prompt a response from the recipient. For instance, “I understand you're opening a business unit specifically to address nonprofit customers. Based on my experience, I can suggest many ideas for reaching this market.”
Talk to current employees to get an inside look about the company's culture and key strategic priorities. Mentioning these details in your cover letter will show that you have gone above and beyond to understand what it's really like to work there.
State up-front why you want the job: This is your high-level proof of what you can do for the company, and why you're interested in this particular role. Hiring professionals want to talk to candidates who show a genuine passion for the job in question — and who don't seem to simply be applying to every position that vaguely fits their career goals.
This is where research can come in handy. For instance, if the job is with an insurance company that's just become the number-one provider in your state and has entered a new market, explain that you want to position yourself for career success by joining forces with an industry leader — and that you can offer specific experience that will help the company gain ground in its new market.
Keep your cover letter brief: It's natural to want to promote yourself as much as possible in your cover letter, but stick to the facts that relate to the job for which you're applying. Limit the discussion to the reasons why you meet the requirements stated in the job description, and omit experience that's off-target. The hiring manager can read your LinkedIn profile or resume to learn more — but first, you have to convince them to dig deeper.
Get feedback and proofread: Ask a trusted friend or colleague to review your letter to make sure you're using your best arguments to get hired. Even better is to find someone at the company you're targeting to review your cover letter. Get to know current employees via LinkedIn groups and ask them for their honest critique. Once you're satisfied with the content, proofread for grammar and spelling, since typos will detract from your carefully crafted message.
The cover letter is a foot in the company door, and your task is to convince the reader to take the next step: to schedule your first interview. Make every word count, and let your enthusiasm show.