Do I need a cover letter?

It’s 2019. Is anyone going to read my cover letter, or is it a vestige of pre-Internet times?

A cover letter is an often overlooked, yet critical aspect to an application packet. In recent years, statistics have floated around the web that suggest the cover letter is “dead” and that most recruiters freely admit that they don’t even read cover letters. This may lead you to believe that you can omit or at least skimp on a cover letter, especially if it’s an optional material. But trust me. You need a cover letter. Even in 2019.

What is a cover letter?

A cover letter is written directly to the person in charge of hiring you, whether that is a hiring manager, a human resources employee, or a future boss. In the letter, the applicant discusses how she came to know about the company and what specific strengths she believes she could bring to the table.

This is very different from a resume or a CV, wherein the applicant lists accomplishments and experience. The cover letter is the only component to the application package in which the applicant can express enthusiasm or indeed, express any sort of personality at all.

So, you may be asking, what is the value in expressing enthusiasm? In an article for Forbes, career expert Caroline Ceniza-Levine says:

“In my 20+ years of recruiting, I have seen many job search issues where employers have differing opinions… you will find some employers passionately with one opinion and other employers just as passionate about the opposite opinion. However, there is one issue where I have only seen employers come down on one side of the divide, and it is regarding this choice: Would you rather hire 1) the more qualified but lukewarm candidate; or 2) the still qualified, though less qualified, candidate who is more enthusiastic about the role? In all my years of recruiting, I have always seen employers pick Candidate 2, the enthusiastic candidate.”

It’s easy to display enthusiasm in an interview. You can plainly state your interest, demonstrate extensive knowledge of the company, or smile like a maniac (which is not necessarily advised), but how about when your future employer is sifting through a mountain of resumes, looking for one that stands out? Your cover letter is an extension of yourself, a representation of both your qualifications and your interest. Your cover letter will demonstrate your enthusiasm when you are not there to do so in person.

How do I demonstrate enthusiasm on my cover letter?

The rule of thumb here is easy: Personalize, personalize, personalize. If you were applying to Harvard, Stanford, and Brown, would you use the same letter to answer the “why do you want to go to this school” prompt? Of course you wouldn’t. Your application would be thrown right out. So why would you use a one size fits all approach on your cover letter or resume? You want the employer to know that you are taking your candidacy seriously and the first way that you can show this is by making sure that your materials feel personalized.

Tips for personalizing your cover letter:

  1. Drop some company knowledge

    Starting your supporting paragraph with a brief fact about the company can offer a good segue into discussing what you can bring to the company. For example: “Lululemon has paved its way as an industry leader, outpacing competitors such as Under Armor, in spite of its relatively niche focus on lifestyle and yoga wear. As a marketing agent who has worked with accounts such as Gatorade and Jeep, I understand the keen sense of brand identity that comes with maintaining this leading edge in a competitive market.”

  2. Comment on the work environment

    Often, companies are looking for someone who is going to be a “good fit” in the workplace dynamic. Skills can be taught and experience can be gained, but it’s impossible to force the “right attitude”. Showing that you can fit in is a great way to personalize your cover letter.

    For example: “Lululemon has long been recognized for the way it regards its employees as both brand ambassadors and members of the community at large. Ever since I attended my first Lululemon yoga event in Vancouver, I have envied the way the way that the company encourages its employees to live the Lulu lifestyle through its fitness reimbursement program and wellness studios located right in the offices. As an active runner and yoga instructor, it is my dream to work for a company that not only encourages my active lifestyle, but supports it and allows me to share my energy with like minded colleagues.”

  3. Take cues from the company’s mission statement or CSR

    Most companies are immensely proud of the ways in which they serve the community and hope to attract employees that fall in line with this messaging and branding. Why not show that you’ve done your research? For example: “Now, in the 21st century, I believe that a company’s ethical stance is every bit as important as its products. At Lululemon, employees can have the best of both, since Lulu’s high quality products are matched by its “community legacy”, encouraging sustainable communities, manufacturing, green spaces, and more.”

As you can tell from the above examples, a cover letter for Lululemon could not be substituted for any other company. The facts just wouldn’t line up. For that reason, a personalized cover letter can be just the way to demonstrate your enthusiasm and ensure that your interest is properly conveyed.

What is the bottom line?

You may be thinking, “well wait, if the recruiter isn’t even going to read my cover letter, then what is the point?” The point is that if you are qualified enough to have your resume pass the recruiter’s desk, then your materials will find their way into the hands of a hiring manager who WILL read your cover letter. And when he or she does, don’t you want to put your best foot forward?

Write a cover letter. At worst, it couldn’t hurt. At best, it will put you head and shoulders over your competitors and help the hiring managers feel connected to you, even before the interview.

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