Don’t Apply Without a Cover Letter

Chances are you went through several drafts of your résumé before you submitted it to a prospective employer. You wrote and rewrote each line several times and had friends, family, even strangers proofread it. But if you send it off without enclosing a cover letter, your hard work may never be seen.

According to a survey, 66 percent of hiring managers prefer a good cover letter attached to a résumé. Think of it as the first chance to stand out in a sea of applicants. Your cover letter, if done well, tells the hiring manager you are qualified for the job and a serious candidate. Perhaps more important is the opportunity to show your personality.

For this reason, many hiring managers discard any résumés that don’t have cover letters. Omitting a cover letter tells the employer that you can’t make the effort to sell yourself and to save him or her some time. Writing a cover letter is an easy way to keep yourself in the game.

Here are some things to remember as you write your cover letter:

It’s your cover letter, not your memoir
Keep the cover letter to a few organized paragraphs that fit on one page. You want to give the reader a glimpse into your personality and your ability as an employee, but no one needs to know every little detail about your life.

Be yourself
Being yourself doesn’t mean being your Saturday-night self. It means putting a little personality into your writing. Recruiters aren’t looking for jokes, but they do want to know a real person is applying for the job. Just changing the “To” and “From” fields in a form letter will come across as lazy and generic. Use your own words and ideas.

Let the résumé speak for itself
Hiring managers read the cover letter before they (hopefully) flip the page to look at the résumé. They might decide they don’t want to read the résumé if your cover letter sounds like it’s restating the exact same information without offering anything new. Discuss a specific achievement or experience that shows your qualifications for the job. The cover letter and résumé combined give you their attention for only two pages, so don’t waste it repeating yourself.

Know your audience
If your boss greeted you each morning by saying, “Hello, employee,” you’d be irked she didn’t know your name. Cover letters beginning “Dear Sir or Madam” and “To Whom It May Concern” leave similar impressions. If the job posting does not specify who will receive the applications, find out. Look online or call the company’s main line to ask for the name of the corporate recruiter or hiring manager. Once you find out, use a formal title such as Mr., Ms. or Mrs. It adds a personal but professional touch that will be appreciated.

Why you want this job
Sure, a paycheck would be nice, but hopefully you want this job for another reason. The company’s history, accomplishments and culture probably played a role in your decision to apply. Let the hiring manager know. It tells him or her that you’ve done your homework and are serious about being a member of the team.

Your manners
Even though job hunts are increasingly taking place online, you still need to adhere to business etiquette. As you would on any professional correspondence, include your full contact information as well as the hiring manager’s name and company address. And of course, avoid any typos and grammatical errors, which include netspeak (k? thx).

Take your time
You already know how important a cover letter is, so don’t rush through it. Treat it with the same care you used for your résumé. Check your facts. Write several drafts, revise it and look it over again. Let your first impression be a good one.