3 Reasons Why a Cover Letter is Still a Must-Have in 2016

Written by Janna Kefalas
I think we all secretly wish the cover letter would die a quick (and painful) death already.  I mean, is there anything more tedious to write?  And do recruiters even read these things?

Well, the answer isn’t so cut and dry.  While it’s true that many recruiters don’t read cover letters, what’s really happening is that they’re glancing at them, seeing that they’re just generic form letters, and moving on.

But a well-crafted, tailored cover letter can really set you apart from the competition (especially from the candidates who don’t even bother to send one). So before you dismiss this handy dandy marketing tool, here are the reasons it’s not going away anytime soon:

Reason #1 - A Cover Letter Demonstrates Your Unique Interest in the Company

Employers want to know you’re interested in working for them specifically, not just any company with an opening.  When I worked as a recruiter, I remember seeing countless cover letters that were obviously form letters. You could tell the only things the candidates changed were the position title and company name.  And sometimes they even forgot to change those!  These candidates made it obvious they were randomly firing off hundreds of resumes a week.  Let’s just say it was hard to take these candidates seriously.

A better game plan is to use the first paragraph of your cover letter to express your genuine interest in the company you’re applying for.  A great opener can be congratulating them on a recent award, new product or service, or other noteworthy piece of news.  To get ideas, check their website, Twitter feed, Facebook and LinkedIn pages. Google them to see if they’ve been mentioned in any industry blogs or other news sources.  And if you use (and love) their product or service, let them know!

Reason #2 - A Cover Letter Showcases You are Fit for the Position

Think of your cover letter as a bridge between your resume and the job description.  Employers create a job description to describe their pain points and list the skills and experience required to solve these problems.  So the best course of action is to use the job description as a roadmap in composing your cover letter.

• Choose the 3-4 most salient job requirements and write accomplishment statements that demonstrate your expertise in these areas.

• Accomplishment statements can be written in the action/result format, for example: “Revamped social media marketing campaign, increasing sales by 20%.”  Or result/action: “Cut administrative costs by 15% by implementing new calendar management software.”

• Avoid copying anything verbatim from your resume.  Instead, rephrase a bullet point or two, adding additional context.

• Lastly, make sure your cover letter contains as many relevant keywords from the job description as possible.

The goal is to demonstrate that you have fully read the job description and have a clear understanding of what is required — and then to showcase your relevant skills and experience so that it’s a no-brainer you’re the right guy or gal to solve their problems.

It goes without saying that you need to create a different cover letter for each job you apply for.  If you’re using virtually the same letter for multiple jobs, it’s a clear indicator you’re not doing enough tailoring to the job description.  But don't fret, once you get a few of these under your belt, you'll be a tailoring whiz!

 

Reason #3 - A Cover Letter Serves As A Writing Sample

Business writing skills are critical these days, regardless of your industry. And while it’s easy to have your resume written by a professional resume writer, employers know you’re likely writing your own cover letter.  (As well you should!)  Therefore, they are using this document to gauge your writing abilities.  If your cover letter is riddled with typos, spelling errors or poor grammar, you’re likely to land in the “no” pile.

Also, make sure your cover letter isn't longwinded or unfocused. Three to four brief paragraphs of clear, organized writing is ideal.  It’s crucial to proofread it several times for errors and lack of clarity.  Better yet, give it to a friend or career coach to take a final look.

So, while you might have wanted to give the cover letter the death sentence, remember, this marketing document can be your friend.  Make it your ticket to standing out as top talent.  If you’re applying for a job you’re excited about at a company that inspires you, it practically writes itself.  (Conversely, if you’re not feeling excited, that might be a sign it’s not the right job or company.)

Remember to use the job description as your guidepost, so you can stay focused and on point.  Happy writing, my friends!

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