what should cover letter contain

The Importance of a Cover Letter and What It Should Contain

Sometimes going through the long arduous process of trying to find a job you’re passionate about can seem a bit like jumping through hoops. There are many expectations placed on the job applicant – what information they need to provide and how, for example – and the competition, depending on what field you are applying in, can be quite stiff.

In addition to researching the field you are interested in working in and researching the various companies that have a job opening, one of the first – and therefore one of the most important – steps you will need to complete is drafting your resume and cover letter.

What is the purpose of a cover letter? Quite simply, the cover letter will inform the recruiting agent or prospective employer as to how they should read your resume, what impression they should come away with, and it should also convince the recruiting agent or prospective employer that you are serious and professional when it comes to your job search.

In this short article, we’ll be taking a look at what goals your cover letter should have and how best to go about reaching them.

The Opening Statement

One analogy that could be helpful is to equate the cover letter to something akin to a lawyer’s opening statement in a criminal trial. The lawyer uses the opening statement to try and inform the jury as to what they are about to experience, and the lawyer is trying to plant seeds in the minds of the jury members as to how they should interpret the information they are about to receive and how they should disregard – and why – any information which might otherwise be problematic.

cover letter for job

Since the recruiting agent or prospective employer is most likely going to simply skim the resumes they receive – at least at first – it is important that they be guided as to how best to skim, what information they can expect to gleam, and how it should be interpreted.

What a good lawyer does in an opening statement is much the same as what you should do in your cover letter:

  • Address the members of the jury respectfully (establish trust and authority)
  • Make specific promises as to what information they should retain
  • Tell them the end result that is expected of them.

If you want to make your resume stand out, you should start with a well-crafted, focused, and succinct cover letter.

Make It Personal

Being the right fit for a specific job or a specific company isn’t only about experience and qualifications. Most likely, the job you are applying for will require teamwork – or at least reporting duties. And therefore, with virtually any job, there is always a personal aspect to it. Are you the right kind of person for the company? Would you fit in with the team? Would we enjoy working with you?

For the most part, a resume only addresses experience, qualifications, and educational background. The resume, to a large extent, fails to provide any insight as to what kind of person you are. This is due in part to the narrow focus of a resume but also because a resume is drafted with bullet points and not prose or complete sentences.

On the other hand, a well-crafted cover letter does not use bullet points or incomplete sentences. Instead, the cover letter is your opportunity to share a bit of “your voice” with the recruiting agent or prospective employer.

This doesn’t mean that you should go out of your way to be witty or that you should divulge intimate secrets. But it does mean that the cover letter has a different function than a resume and that function should not be neglected. Your cover letter is an opportunity to address the recruiting agent or prospective employer on a personal level. It is also your opportunity to share a bit of your voice and let them know that when they read your resume, they will be reading the resume of a “real person”, with “real personality” and not just another piece of paper to add to the stack – or the bin.

Build to a Simple Call for Action

The person reading your cover letter should come away from it with a clear idea of what it is you are asking them to do, a clear idea of what their next steps should be. In simplistic terms, your cover letter is a request for the reader to then read your resume and call you in for a job interview. This aim should be clearly stated (and especially in the closing).

what should cover letter contain

Reverting back to the analogy used at the beginning of this article – the opening statement made by a lawyer at a criminal trial – we see that the lawyer states the job the jury members have been asked to do (what their goals are), and the lawyer also states what action they should take in relation to those goals (find my client not-guilty or enter a verdict of guilty and help keep our community safe, for example).

Short Template

  • You are looking for “this kind of person” to fill “this position”
  • Take a look at my resume and see that I possess the skills, attributes, and experience you are looking for
  • Call me in for an interview where I will be able to convince you of my seriousness and that I am the right person for the job

The Bottom Line

You don’t want the recruiting agent or prospective employer to go in blind when they get around to looking at your resume. you want them to understand that the resume has come from a serious and motivated candidate. Furthermore, you know that the recruiting agent or prospective employer is most likely going to simply skim your resume. You want to inform them as to what kind of information they should look for and how best to interpret that information.

Lastly – and perhaps most importantly – you want the recruiting agent or hiring manager to have a specific action in mind, a specific action you are asking them to take: read my resume and call me in for an interview. This is what a cover letter should accomplish and it should do so in a few short paragraphs.

Sujain Thomas

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