"Do I really need to write a cover letter? Really??" As Military.com's transition master coach, I field this question all the time. For transitioning military, veterans and military spouses, writing (or reading) an eight-paragraph cover letter like you see in the job-hunt guides seems like a cruel and unusual punishment.
If you ask me, all those torturously long cover letters they use as examples must have been written by someone with an MBA, three Ph.D.s and a giant thesaurus. In, say, 1995.
Not only do these cover letters contain strings of words with four or more syllables, but they also include the kind of world-beating statistics that would make Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk quiver with shame. It's super weird.
That tells me we have lost track of what a cover letter is meant to do in the modern world. So many military, veterans, spouses, career counselors and employers are finding that the job hunt has changed a lot since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Changes to the cover letter and the way we interact by email are part of the new landscape.
That is why I put together this Ultimate Guide to Easy Cover Letters and a FREE cover letter template for you to copy.
Sure, cover letters are often a necessary part of finding a job for veterans, but you will be glad to know it is a whole lot easier than it ever was before. Here are the answers you need about cover letters:
Are Cover Letters a Total Waste of Time?
At the Veteran Employment Project, we are always trying to help you bridge the gap between the military and the civilian business world. So to help me on the cover letter problem, I reached out to Bill Kieffer, a veteran, career transition leadership coach and author of "Military Career Transition: Insights from the Employer Side of the Desk."
"I have strong opinions about cover letters," said Kieffer, who spent more than 20 years as a senior human resources executive for three multibillion-dollar companies. "Cover letters waste my time. I know you want the job. I know you think you will be great. But I'm not going to read it because I don't have time."
Understanding the time factor for the other person is a key part of writing a great cover letter. "It is a courtesy. Make it short and sweet and relevant," Kieffer said.
Will the Employer Read This on a Cell Phone?
Most people check their email on their phones first thing in the morning. The last thing a hiring manager wants to see that early in the day is eight paragraphs about anything -- especially if they must scan through a lot of blah, blah, blah to get to the ask.
Find out how to write the perfect cover letter in four sentences by scrolling to the bottom of the page for our FREE cover letter template.
Is the Cover Letter Required?
Now that you have the recipient and their cell phone in mind, the next thing you need to know is whether a cover letter is actually required. "If they are required, you have to do it," said Kieffer. "If [the] job posting demands a cover letter, then do a good one."
Is the Cover Letter Optional?
If the job listing says a cover letter is optional, it is, in fact, absolutely optional. The likelihood is that no one is ever going to read your cover letter. In the interest of ultimate politeness, though, go ahead and use our four-sentence cover letter template below, especially if you are changing fields or roles.
What Is the Purpose of This Cover Letter?
Back in the day, the job of a cover letter was to literally cover your resume. This was when job hunters printed their resumes and letters on paper and then used a mysterious item called an envelope to mail them. In a mailbox. Shocking, I know.
Today, the explanatory and social work of the old-fashioned cover letter is done by including a live link to your LinkedIn profile in your email signature.
Is the Cover Letter Meant to Be a Writing Sample?
Sometimes when a cover letter is required, it might be doing a different kind of work. This might be a sneaky/smart way for an employer to request a writing sample. For a job that requires a lot of writing, a cover letter demonstrates how much a person knows about spelling and grammar, as well as their attention to detail.
Keep the cover letter limited to one page and break up the page with bullet points. Also, please ask someone to read the cover letter to you out loud so you are sure to catch mistakes.
Should I Attach My Resume to the Cover Letter?
If you are applying on a job site that requests a cover letter, upload the resume, cover letter and accompanying documentation together.
Outside a job site, my own rule is that you should never, ever send your resume unless someone specifically asks for it.
Will a Cover Letter Get You the Job?
"I don't know anyone who got a job because they wrote an eight-paragraph cover letter," I confessed to Kieffer in our interview.
"I don't know anyone who got a job because they wrote a one-paragraph cover letter," Kieffer replied. "I think a cover letter ought to be renamed a connecting letter. It fulfills a need for the employer. It connects the dots for them about why you have reached out to them."
The connecting email (aka the cover letter) is sent, because the employer has either a job opening or a problem that needs to be solved. In the email, you connect yourself and your abilities to their job, which results in a conversation. This is networking, which is statistically your best bet toward landing that job offer.
What Should the Subject Line Be for a Cover Letter?
Emails have a pretty good open rate compared to other correspondence, especially if that person already knows you. If they do not know you, you can increase your chance of getting the recipient to open your email by naming someone they do know in the subject line.
EXAMPLE: SUBJECT: Alice Janakula sent me.
Or, SUBJECT: Tre Cooper from USNA told me ..."
Or, you can list the name of the job opening in the subject line.
Best Cover Letter Template Ever
So if the job of the cover letter is to connect the dots for the hiring manager, recruiter or professional connection, you have to do it in a way that suits the recipient's schedule.
Too often, we military folks hear "connect the dots" as a demand to reach back and connect 72 dots in eight paragraphs. To get around this problem, use this template to connect just four dots in four sentences.
Dot No. 1: This is how we are connected.
EXAMPLE: Alice Janakula and I ran into each other at our girls soccer game last week, and she remembered ...
Or, In our monthly meeting for the Hampton Roads Veteran Employment Zone, Steve Bremerton mentioned ...
Dot No. 2: I see you have a need.
EXAMPLE: ... that you are looking for a project manager who has experience with Aegis missile systems and an acquisition background.
Dot No. 3: I have the capability to fill that need.
EXAMPLE: Not only was I the weapons department head on the USS Gettysburg, but I also just completed a tour at the Pentagon at N-96. I think I could be of help to you.
Dot No. 4: We should get together next week.
EXAMPLE: I'd like to get on your schedule. Do you have time for a quick call next week?
Quick Check: Did You Bury the Ask?
If you connect these four dots, your cover letter will result in a response -- if you did not bury the ask. So often, I see how veterans will use a phrase like, "Let me know if you are interested," or, "Reach out if you have any questions," to end their cover letter.
While nominally polite, these phrases do not result in connecting calls. These phrases result in the hiring manager not really wanting to add one more thing to their to-do list this week, so they go get breakfast.
Cover letters do not have to be eight-paragraph tomes littered with four syllable words describing impossible feats of business success. Instead, cover letters are the simplest paragraphs that lead to the most beautiful of job offers.
Jacey Eckhart is Military.com's transition master coach. She is a certified professional career coach and military sociologist who helps military members get their first civilian job by offering career-level Master Classes through our Veteran Employment Project and on her website, SeniorMilitaryTransition.com. Reach her at Jacey.Eckhart@Monster.com.
Learn More About the Veteran Employment Project
To get more tips on how to make a successful military transition, sign up for one of our many FREE Military Transition Master Classes today. You can view previous classes in our video library. Questions for Jacey? Visit our Facebook page.