May 6, 2020

What the Heck Do I Put in a Cover Letter?

by Mary Newgard

Back when typewriters and fax machines were all the rage, so were cover letters.  None of the three have aged very well in the 21st century!  That said, there are times when insurance companies and agencies request a cover letter with your resume and job application. They use cover letters as a screening technique to speed up the selection process.

Cover letters are an easy stumbling block because they are uncommon. You want to include just enough of the right information to help not hurt your chances of an interview.

Capstone's Top 10 List of Things to Include in a Cover Letter

  1. Find a Template on Google Docs. This way all the standard letter writing format you learned but forgot in high school typing class is correct!
  2. Pander to Your Audience. Yes, HR receives this but write the letter as if you’re talking to the hiring manager. A combination of layman’s terms and inside jargon will grab their attention.
  3. Brevity is Important. 4-6 seconds is the average time HR spends reviewing your resume. A wordy, lengthy cover letter is a fast track to the trash can. Be brief and to the point in two paragraphs.
  4. Highlight Key Skills. Bullet points are your friend. List 2-3 strengths that connect with your resume and mirror the job description.
  5. Insert Searchable Keywords. Your cover letter will be stored in the company’s ATS (applicant tracking system). If you don’t get this job but want to make sure they can find you for future roles, have keywords (title, skills, knowledge, credentials) highlighted in the cover letter & resume.
  6. Tell the Audience Who You Are. Be personable. Share insight into your career (past, present & future) so the hiring manager understands why you applied for this job.
  7. An “Objective Section” on Steroids. A cover letter is a much better place than a resume to outline job search specifics like I want to relocate or I am pursuing a completely different field or I am interested in an alternative working arrangement.
  8. Reiterate Motivation. Why did you apply for this job? Make sure 1-2 sentences are devoted to your motivation. The answer can be about your current employment situation, desire to work for the company or how the job is so unique you just had to apply.
  9. Create a Sense of Urgency. I am immediately available for a confidential interview. While this may seem obvious, it implies your interest and desire to start the dialogue right away. Companies want to be wanted. They like hearing this.
  10. Insert Your Signature. This is a nice touch. It will make you stand apart. Print the cover letter, sign it and scan it to a PDF. You would sign most personal letters, so this is a way to separate your paperwork from the pack.

It is possible you’ll never be asked for a cover letter. While rare, they do still have a place in the job search process today and can feel like a monkey wrench really fast. If you are ever asked for one, remember to write to your audience, focus on what is important and meet the expectations of the company or person requesting it.

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