By Kimberly Spikes
I get asked a lot about whether a cover letter is still important in today’s world of work. The short answer (as with many things job-search related), is, it depends. The key determining factor in whether or not you should carefully craft a cover letter is to look at whether the company is actually asking for one or not. If a company isn’t mentioning a cover letter, or they make it optional as an inclusion with your resume, then either don’t include one or at least don’t spend a lot of time on it. Just fill in the company and job-specific elements of a cover letter you’ve used in the past.
BUT! If the company you’re applying to does require a cover letter, then it’s worth taking the time to go beyond simply filling in the company’s details, and write a customized message to them. If the company requires a cover letter, then they are likely using the cover letter as a key element in their initial screening process — or, in other words, it’s far more likely someone actually will read it!
So, what do I mean when I say, write a customized message to the company? Well, the cover letter is a great opportunity to go beyond your resume in providing another voice and further insight into who you are and how you align to the organization — not only with your skills and experience, but also in terms of your values alignment and your passions.
Read the company’s pages around “Careers,” “About Us,” “Our Team,” etc. How do they talk about themselves — who they are, who their audience is, and what they believe in. What do they prioritize? How do they describe their culture? How do they talk about their customer/user/guest, etc.? If the company calls their HR folks their People team, then address the letter accordingly using the same nomenclature (of course, that’s assuming you aren’t able to identify the hiring manager directly).
Your resume is the most important place to talk about your skills and experience; the cover letter is where you can highlight the most relevant skills and experience for their job posting, but it’s also where you need to tell your story to the company about how else you match up with what they’re looking for to add to their culture. Love their mission statement? Mention it in the opening paragraph as the reason you’re excited to apply! Can’t get enough of their products? The cover letter is where you let them know.
And, while it’s important to keep an overall tone of professionalism in the cover letter, this is also where you can show off a bit more of your personality than in the resume. As you review the company’s pages as described above, jot down keywords or even emotions that come to mind for you – then weave language into your cover letter that matches that tone.
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