Cover letters are a bit of a unique beast. Some managers don’t bother looking at them, while others won’t consider a candidate without reviewing the letter in detail. As you never know who will be reviewing your application, you do want to spend some time creating a solid cover letter. Here are a few pointers to get you started:
Writing quality: This is a formal letter, which means that it should not have any slang and should be proofread carefully. Cover letters that have grammatical errors, spelling and/or structure mistakes get tossed.
Length: Aim for 3-4 paragraphs. Do not even consider going over one page using standard formatting (teensy 9 point font size is hard to read).
Value proposition: The cover letter shouldn’t focus on what the job or company can do for you. It should highlight the value that you can bring to the team and the company. Review the job description carefully, and take note of related experience and knowledge that you can add to the role. Then include the two-four most important points in your cover letter.
Generic cover letters: My recommendation is to create a few baseline versions of your cover letter (one for each type of role you are interested in). Then, when applying to the role, review the job description carefully, and add/remove/rephrase your experience so it is appropriate to the position. If possible, note why you care about the specific role or company. Each cover letter should be modified so that it directly connects to the role for which you are applying. Consider adding a couple key words from the job description into the cover letter, where appropriate.
Structure: Cover letters should have a baseline structure of introduction, body and conclusion. The intro. should cover the role you are applying to and give a hint of the value that you can bring to the company. The body should either give specific examples which demonstrate what you can offer the company (i.e. increased sales by 20% over a six month period….) or, it should explain your overall related experience. Finally, the conclusion should provide a quick reiteration of your value proposition along with your contact information. You can also add why you are interested in the role at any of these points, as long as your value proposition comes first.
Weaknesses: While you don’t want to highlight your weak points, you can use your cover letter to address potential concerns. For example, if you have been out of work for a year, explain what you have done in that year (if it offers value to the company).
Cover letters are a great way to show company that you are a professional who would be an asset to the team. If you follow these general principles, you will be off to a great start in creating an application that highlights you as a valuable candidate.