Looking for a new job in 2022 can mean a lot of online job applications. Many of those applications may need a cover letter to complete the submission. Our recruiters and professional cover letter writers have put together the best insights for building a cover letter that will land the job interviews in 2022. Here they are:
Does a Cover Letter Even Matter?
To build an effective cover letter, the first question that most will ask is "Does it really matter?" In all reality, a cover letter may not matter as much as it used to in the 2022 job search market. But, there are some companies that still want to see them. You will know if the cover letter may matter for a company if there is a field to submit a cover letter. In that case, you will want to submit a customized cover letter for the particular position.
However, the cover letter doesn't always go to the hiring manager. Many applicant tracking systems (ATS) used by employers will handle the cover letter separately from the resume. Most of the time a cover letter isn't even parsed for keywords. Instead, they are placed in a separate section in the ATS. This information may or may not go to the hiring manager.
To overcome these limits, some employers have started adding fields to their online job application that gives the candidate an opportunity to submit a statement directly to the hiring manager. This box is effectively your cover letter because you get the opportunity to tell the hiring manager why you want the job and why you think you are a fit. This new trend in cover letters, a direct customized approach, will continue to grow in 2022.
Optional Still Means Optional
And, in 2022, the field to submit an optional cover letter will still be exactly that - optional. In many cases, those cover letter fields in the application process may be holdovers or forced fields from the applicant tracking system. If that is the case, then no one may actually read your cover letter. So, it really isn't a test to see if you really want the job.
If you take the time to submit a cover letter when it is optional, make sure that you are submitting quality. Chances are not high that the cover letter will be read. But, if it is, then you don't want that optional cover letter to hurt your chances for the job. So, take your time and make the message strong before hitting submit.
1. Make the Cover Letter Easy to Read
The cover letter should be a straightforward message to the person skimming it. You should use the opportunity to convey exactly why you are sending the information and what you want. You should also connect the dots for the person skimming it to see how you are a fit for the job.
This means creating a cover letter that meets the standard expectations of a business letter. Keep the cover letter focused and use plain language. Be direct and remember to use your skills in building the cover letter. Use every line on the cover letter strategically and avoid repeating any concepts.
2. Mirror the Resume Style
The cover letter and resume should use the same format, style, and spacing to create consistency in your brand. This means that you should use the same header on the resume on the cover letter. You will also want to use the same font and size on your cover letter. This will create consistency and make it easy for the person reviewing both to see that the documents are from the same person.
3. Keep it to 1 Page
A cover letter should be no more than 1 page. Anything longer is simply too much for any job application. Maximize the message on the cover letter by focusing on the answer to the question - Why hire me for this job? Doing this will enable you to stay on point and to remove any additional information that isn't relevant to the particular job or company.
4. Be Specific
A general cover letter will get general results at best. So, make sure to be as specific as you can when submitting a cover letter. Customize the cover letter to the particular job and company if possible. You shouldn't have to recreate the letter each time.
Instead, focus your efforts on the specifics that are most relevant to the job and company. The level of detail can vary depending on the job that you are applying to and what you want the person skimming the cover letter to know about your application. In some cases, you may find that a totally specific letter is best. In others, the letter may require minimal changes.
5. Reference Other Application Documents
A cover letter is by definition a cover to your overall application. This means that you should address any other documents included in the application in your cover letter. This could be as simple as including a few sentences or phrases in your cover letter about the additional materials. Or, you could include an enclosure line at the bottom of the letter to include a complete list of documents that are attached to your application.
Including a reference to all of the documents on your cover letter will help the recruiter screening your application to make sure that you have followed the instructions and that they have everything. And, it will help you to look back to find everything that you submitted to the company when you prepare for the job interview.
Addressing the Cover Letter
6. Address a Person if Possible
A cover letter is a business letter to express interest in a particular position. So, if possible, it would be customary to address that cover letter to a particular person. You may find the name of the person to include in the job posting. In that case, it is appropriate to include the person's name in the letter.
However, it isn't always possible to include a name on the cover letter. In that case, you would address the letter to "the Hiring Committee" or "To Whom it May Concern." These general salutations are not ideal, but they are appropriate when you do not have more specific information.
7. Get to the Point Quickly
You should get to the point quickly in the cover letter to tell the HR team exactly why you are submitting the cover letter. This means including the specific job title and requisition number on the cover letter if possible. This could be in the "RE:" line or in the first sentence of the cover letter or both.
This is important because it will help the recruiter or talent acquisition person to keep your application with the right job openings. And, it will help you to remember exactly which jobs you applied for with the company. This is particularly important when you are applying to multiple jobs at the same company or if you are working with recruiting firms.
8. Use Appropriate Tone for the Job You are Pursuing
A cover letter for a job application is typically expected to be treated like business correspondence. Meaning that the tone should be appropriately formal to a professional context. However, some companies and positions require a more casual or informal tone than others.
And, people will be looking for a certain tone to reflect their culture and particular needs in the position. For example, a newer grad that wants to learn and is hungry for experience should reflect that motivation in their cover letter. However, a seasoned executive should use a tone of maturity and expertise. Keeping the tone consistent with your message is key to staying on-brand and connecting with the companies that you want to join.
9. Provide the Source
Did you find the job online? Or, did you learn about the position through a referral? Including this information in your cover letter will help the HR team that is managing the sourcing. Most people can tell where your application came from based on how you submitted the application. This is because of how the HR systems work with job boards and the data they capture in that process.
And, you will also benefit by including this information in your cover letter. You will have a copy of the cover letter saved and you can look back at them over your job search. You will be able to see which job boards work for you and where you need to spend your time. And, you can go back to that site to pull the job description for use in the interview prep.
10. Reference any Referrals in the Letter
Make sure to include explicit references to anyone that you spoke to at the company about the job in the cover letter. You should first make sure that this is ok with the person. But, including their name and title in the cover letter will ensure that the person gets appropriate credit for the employee referral. And, it makes it easy for the recruiter or hiring manager to go back to that person to ask them about you.
Including a name or multiple names in the cover letter comes with a bit of strategy. First, you want to make sure the person is well-liked at the organization. If not, you risk being blacklisted. Second, you should include the most prestigious names whenever possible and list them first. If you have connected with multiple people, then make sure you say that in the cover letter. Be clear in your connections and conversations early in the process. This will ultimately make it easier for you to rely on those people in the hiring process and create a level of transparency that recruiters will appreciate.
The Core Message
11. Do NOT Repeat the Resume
Be careful not to repeat your resume in the cover letter. Instead, the cover letter is most effective when you tell the story behind the resume. Convey your strengths in a way that is relevant to the particular job and company that you are applying to. This will make it easier for the person skimming your cover letter to see you in the opening.
The cover letter should be a high-level pitch as to why you want the job and why you are a good fit. You can use the information from your resume to answer that questions. But, you should not only rely on the information from the past to answer this question. Instead, make sure to include information that is forward-looking.
12. Tell Your Story with Numbers
You can use the cover letter to include the top results across your career that are key to your message. When doing this, make sure to include those numbers from your resume. This will help you to connect with the person skimming the cover letter. The stats can stand out and draw the attention of the person.
Be careful in how you include these numbers as they can also be used against you. Meaning that if you are trying to go from a big company to a smaller one (or vice-versa), the straight numbers of a budget or team size may be out of alignment with the expectations of the new company. So, use percentages whenever possible. Everyone can relate to an increase or decrease that is reflected in a percentage to show the movement.
13. Connect Skills to Results
Tell the story beyond your resume by connecting your skills with results. Taking this extra step to illustrate how you create impact with the skills makes it easier for you to stand out. And, it will catch the eye of the person skimming your cover letter.
Remember that you should also use those same skills in building your cover letter. And, the person reading your cover letter will make judgments about those skills if you fail to use them in the cover letter. For example, if you say that you are detailed and you have a typo on your cover letter, then you are unlikely to be viewed as a good candidate.
14. Show that You are a Cultural Fit
Fit is more important than ever in the current talent market because of the increasingly remote and hybrid models. Companies need to know that you can work effectively with their team to get the work done - however that may need to happen.
So, use the cover letter to demonstrate that you are a cultural fit for the organization that you are applying to. You can do that by incorporating the concepts from the job posting or the company careers page. Mirror the tone from the company if possible and provide examples of how you have used those skills to help illustrate your fit for the company.
15. Be Direct
Always use direct language in your cover letter. Tell the reader exactly why you want the job and why you are a fit. The best way to do this is with action verbs and clear sentences. Examples of action phrases are:
Maximize the impact of these action verbs with an active voice. This will eliminate the use of passive tone in your cover letter. Instead, write clear direct sentences that get right to the point. For example:
When looking at the potential, I collaborated with the key stakeholders to manage the cross-functional project.
I collaborated with the key stakeholders to drive results and maintain buy-in as the leader of the high-impact project.
16. Avoid Abbreviations and Jargon
The cover letter should not contain a lot of jargon or abbreviations. Minimizing these in the cover letter will ensure that it is readable by anyone in the hiring process. So, take the time to write out all acronyms. This is important because the HR or recruiting professional skimming the cover letter may or may not know the substantive acronyms in your field. Thus, they may not think your message is clear and may decide to pass on your application. Or, they could think that you aren't great at communicating with people outside of your field. Either way, you can avoid negative inferences by writing out all phrases and acronyms.
It is ok to write out the phrase and then to provide an abbreviation in the letter after the first appearance of the word. For example, "University of Minnesota (UMN)." This will enable you to use the abbreviation in the letter while also making it easy for the person reading it to understand exactly what you are referencing.
17. Use Standard Sign-offs
A cover letter is still a business letter in most cases. So, the appropriate thing to do is still to include a signatory block at the bottom of the letter. In there, you should use any of the standard salutations. Consider using any of the following:
- Thank you,
- Kind Regards,
Make sure to avoid informal or casual sign-offs like "Yours truly" or "Cheers" as these aren't considered appropriate for business correspondence like a cover letter for a job application.
18. Match Your Name to the Top of the Letter
Consistency in how your name appears is key to ensuring the level of detail that most employers expect. So, if your name appears in the header of the cover letter as "John A. Smith, MBA," then you should sign the cover letter as "John A. Smith, MBA." This is a simple catch, but important to keep consistency in your brand to the employer.
19. Proofread the Letter Before Submitting
A poorly written cover letter will cost you the job. So, take the time to re-read your cover letter before sending it to the employer. This will enable you to catch any errors or typos. And, if you haven't already, make sure to turn on the spelling and grammar checks. It may seem simple, but so many people fail to take this step and it almost always costs them the job.
20. Use PDF When Possible
Using an adobe or pdf format for submitting your cover letter and resume is key to ensuring that it is viewable across devices. The pdf format will be viewable in its proper format on any device. That is key to making sure that people don't see errors on the file when there aren't any. And, it makes it easy to see the file in the proper way when downloading on phones, tablets, etc.
Submitting a cover letter in a pdf format will also remove some of the additional data from the file that you may not want the employer to know. For example, who created the file, when it was created, how long you spent editing it, etc. So, take the time to convert the cover letter and resume to pdf format before hitting submit.
21. Combine Documents to Create a Single File
There are some systems that only allow candidates to submit a single file through the entire application process. To make the most of that file, combine all of your documents into a single file. This could be the resume and the cover letter. Or, you could opt to include other required application documents in the file.
Make sure to put these documents together in a logical order in a single file. You should start with the cover letter, then resume and all other documents would follow. There may be size limits for file uploads in the ATS. In that case, you may need to reduce the number of items attached or find a way to compress the document while still maintaining the required information in a universally readable way.
22. Follow Instructions
Failing to follow basic instructions in the application process will likely result in rejection of your application. This could be as simple as making sure you send the application and cover letter to a particular email or submitting it prior to a certain time or date. Whatever the instructions are, make sure that you follow them prior to hitting submit.
Make sure that your cover letter addresses all of those requirements before hitting submit. Being clear about how you meet the requirements makes the job easy for the person that may skim your cover letter. You are outlining exactly what you did to follow the instructions and how you are qualified for the job. This will make it easier for the person to decide to keep reviewing your application.
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