Too often, job seekers treat cover letters as afterthoughts or ignore them altogether. By including a cover letter with every resume you send, you'll add an important element to your job search arsenal that could make the difference in whether you get the interview. Before you write your letter, read this guide to frequently asked questions:
Q: I've heard employers don't bother reading cover letters, so aren't they just a waste of time?
A: Some busy hiring managers don't read cover letters on the initial screening. But others will read the letter -¿ if not initially, then on the second pass. So the cover letter can definitely help you, and it certainly won't hurt you. It's a great opportunity to sell your unique qualifications and present your value proposition.
Q: What if the ad doesn't request a cover letter?
A: You should always include a cover letter, even if the job posting doesn't request it. First, it's just good business etiquette. Second, it helps hiring managers quickly surmise the position you're applying for. Third, and perhaps most importantly, a cover letter gives you another opportunity to sell your credentials.
Q: Can I repeat what's in my resume on my cover letter?
A: It's a mistake to simply copy information from your resume into your cover letter. Your resume's telegraphic writing style (where personal pronouns and articles like "the" and "a" may be omitted) is not appropriate for a cover letter. In fact, a cover letter gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your writing skills.
Q: Do I need to customize my cover letter?
A: Spending a few extra minutes customizing your letter for each job application is recommended. You'll certainly want to make sure the correct company name, job title and contact name are included in every letter you send. It's also a good idea to take note of requirements or desired qualifications mentioned in job ads and use your cover letter to bring out your matching skills and credentials. Try to read between the lines when reviewing job postings to get important clues about what's most important to the hiring manager. For example, if the ad mentions multitasking as a desired skill, be sure that your cover letter contains a sentence that demonstrates your ability to simultaneously manage multiple projects.
Q: What if I don't know the hiring manager's name?
A: When a job posting doesn't give you a specific contact name, avoid using the overly formal "Dear Sir or Madam" or "To Whom it May Concern." Instead, try calling the employer to find out the hiring manager's name. If the employer's name is masked or if the ad specifies "no phone calls," use "Dear Hiring Manager" or "Dear Recruiter" if a recruiting firm is handling the initial screening.
Q: What should I say about salary requirements if mentioned in a job ad?
A: The best strategy is to acknowledge the request in your cover letter without going into specific detail. Providing hard numbers now weakens your negotiating power later. And if your requirements fall outside the position's parameters, you may not even be considered for the job. It's best to indicate in your cover letter that you would be happy to discuss salary requirements once a mutual interest has been established. Or if you really feel pressured, provide a broad range: "My salary requirements are in the $60K to $80K range, depending upon the specific scope of responsibilities."
Q: How do I email my cover letter?
A: Follow the instructions given by the hiring manager. If there are no instructions, copy and paste a plain-text version of your cover letter (and resume) in the body of an email message and attach your resume in MS Word format. This article gives step-by-step instructions on how to email your resume and cover letter.
If you happen to be having trouble writing your resume too, consider having one professionally written for you.