While you may give your resume a lot of credit for landing you the interview and job, some employers say that cover letters are greatly underused and can be the key to helping you stand out. With the ability to rapidly apply for jobs online, many applicants forego writing a cover letter or rely on a generic one. But taking just a little bit of time to write a good, job-specific cover letter can pay off in a big way.
Follow these tips to help your cover letter shine:
A cover letter is your first chance to tell employers about yourself. Your cover letter should naturally flow into your resume and make the employer eager to learn more about you. It should not be a recitation of tasks but clear details about you, putting your work experience into context. Your resume speaks to your past experiences, but your cover letter can tell the employer your goals for the future. This is particularly helpful if you are changing work settings or seeking a leadership role.
Employers are always looking for something special about their applicants. The cover letter is the place to highlight any specialties or successes in your career. Tell them about your study abroad, supervision, or leadership experience. Don't just list the tasks you performed; instead, choose an example that demonstrates your strengths.
For example, explain how your research on tinnitus led you to presenting a session at the ASHA Convention. This detail highlights your expertise and shows that you have the potential to be a thought leader in the industry.
Give an example or two of how you can help the company or organization. Use the job description to identify a responsibility or challenge the employer may have and then describe how you have solved this challenge or performed this function in the past. If you have not performed a specific task before, explain how your experiences have prepared you to take on this new task.
For example, if you are changing from a school setting to a skilled nursing facility, explain how your time-management skills have helped you maximize your time with clients. This is an example of a transferable skill that the skilled nursing facility will find highly valuable.
Employers will be looking at your resume closely to see if you are a good fit. Often, hiring managers will scrutinize employment gaps and unusual career moves, possibly ruling you out if there are significant gaps in your employment without an explanation. That's why it's important to address these issues clearly and briefly in your cover letter—your goal is to advance past the pre-screening process to an interview. Your interviewer will also likely bring it up, so have an answer ready.
For example, if you took time to be a caregiver, you could say: "After taking the last three years to care for my family, I am eager to return to serving clients in a school setting." This example references the gap, gives a clear reason, and quickly transitions to your excitement to return to work. If your employment gap is because of a termination or layoff, it's important to avoid any negative or derogatory tones. Mention the termination or layoff as a transition (you can get into the details during the interview), and focus instead on the things you learned there and what your hopes are for the new role.
Employers are looking for staff who want to work for them. Employee turnover can be expensive for employers, so they want to make sure you want to be there. Employees who are familiar with and like an employer's work culture and potential career opportunities are more likely to stay. Do a little research on the company and highlight what you like about them. Be careful of using too much flattery or relying on humor, which can be subjective and detract from the important information you are trying to convey. The key is to be sincere.
Cover letters should be no more than a page. Some employers say three to four paragraphs are ideal. It is important to maximize the space you have and lead with something that will capture the employer's attention. The goal is to give enough information that they are interested in meeting you.