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To Cover Letter or Not to Cover Letter?
One of the most common questions we receive is whether or not to include a cover letter with a job application. On one hand, a Cover Letter is a great way to introduce yourself, especially if you can do it in a memorable and personable way. It shows you put forth the extra effort and if done correctly, can really make you stand out. On the other hand, writing them requires a skill that many are uncomfortable with and a poorly crafted Cover Letter can actually hinder your chances even if coupled with a great resume.
In the end, this article is going to base a decision on what Hiring Managers have indicated for years - they love ‘em!
First off, the most important rule - if the job description specifically requires a Cover Letter, you must include one if you plan on applying for the position. Reality check, nobody is so above replacement that they need not follow instructions and still get the job.
With that said, most job descriptions do not require a Cover Letter. So now what? Well, here are three instances when you should NOT include a Cover Letter:
If You Have No Interest or Ability to Personalize the Cover Letter: If you are going to search online to find some generic template out there, you are better off not submitting one. For years, job seekers have rushed online, found a template and proudly sent them off. Hiring Managers have seen them all and are well aware they took 5 minutes to create for mass-distribution. Even worse, they take the time and attention from your resume, which is sure to be better than a templated Cover Letter.
If You Have Nothing New to Say: Remember, the Cover Letter is supposed to be personal and grab the reader’s attention. If you plan on summarizing your education, work experience and education - DON’T - leave that for your resume. But if you have a personal backstory that explains how you became interested in the field or the employer, that’s great!.
If You Want to Provide Examples of How You WIll Add Value to or Improve the Company: You can use a Cover Letter to demonstrate your knowledge of the position, but most likely you will come off like a know-it-all or worse be perceived as having negative things to say, which no Hiring Manager will entertain. You will have your opportunity to answer these questions in an interview (hopefully).
In most other cases, it’s appropriate and recommended to send a Cover Letter. You should be prepared to spend just as much time on it, possible more, than your resume. You should share valuable, personal and memorable information that is not on your resume. In addition to compelling life stories that relate to your background, here are some hints:
Do You Have a Personal Connection or Referral? If you were referred by a family member or a friend, always not this in the Cover Letter. How do you know them? Did they introduce you to any other company employees? Why did they think you would be a great fit?
Do You Have a History With the Company? Maybe you worked for a competitor, supplier or vendor. Maybe you crossed paths with a current or former employee at another company. Who was it (help connect the dots)? What information was shared that swayed you to want to work for the company?
It’s Your Dream Job. It sounds, and may feel corny, to write a passionate and heartfelt Cover Letter indicating this particular position is your dream job. But so long as you have taken the time to explain why providing examples as to why (i.e.: research performed on the company, its culture and the position), it’s only human nature for the Hiring Manager to be impacted by that and remember it.
Should I apply for a job that I am not qualified for?
After searching through hundreds of job openings, you find the one – the job you’ve always wanted with a great company. After reading the requirements, you are deflated because you don’t exactly meet all the position requirements. Should you apply or are you just wasting everyone’s time? This really depends on how close you are to meeting the requirements and the employer’s expectations. For example, if you only meet 1 or 2 of the qualifications, the employer is seeking someone to hit the ground running, or the job is for a senior level position in a field for which you have no experience – you are not at all qualified and should not apply. Conversely, if there are only 1 or 2 of the qualifications you are missing or the employer is seeking lifelong learners – you are a little underqualified and should still apply. If you are still on the fence, throw your hat in the ring – the worst case is you get rejected and have a learning experience to apply to your future job search efforts.
No work experience? No worries. How to find a job anyway.
It can be quite a conundrum – employers want to hire candidates with experience, but if you’re a first-time job seeker or have not worked in a long period of time, how can you have experience? The first step is understanding that anything task that required you to be responsible, solve problems and/or learn new skills can be considered work experience even if you were not paid. So that time you spent babysitting, housesitting, volunteering, washing cars and walking dogs for the neighbors or raising children all exemplify qualities that employers deem valuable. This is work experience that you can be proud to tout. Ideally, you are able to apply the skills you used and those you learned to doing these tasks to the position you are applying to.
What skills do employers value the most?
You just read through a bunch of job ads and are inundated with long lists and bullet points of “Essential Requirements”. You might even feel a little out of your league wondering if your skills match up to the competition. The truth is, most employers are looking for qualities in a candidate that are rarely listed in the job ad. What are these qualities? Problem solving - describe how you took on a challenge with minimal direction. Communication – provide examples how clear communication with others (including listening and following directions) resulted in a career success. Happy to learn new things – if you like to read or watch How-To videos on Youtube, say so. Proactive – show that you’ve already been thinking about this position by asking questions and anticipating challenges. If you can figure out a way to weave keywords and examples of these qualities into your application process, cover letter and certainly in your interview, you will have a successful job search.