Q: Do I always need to send a cover letter with my resume?

A: The short answer to this question is no. Some jobs simply require or ask for a resume, possibly accompanied by an online or paper application form.

However, when offered the opportunity to provide a cover letter, this can be a good way to showcase and expand on items in your resume, in order to entice the reader to take a closer look at your resume.

The cover letter is intended to be more conversational in nature than a resume, so paragraphs work well. Some candidates choose to showcase their skills in bullet format in a cover letter, but this format can sometimes tempt the writer to simply copy and paste items from their resume into the letter. Repeating the same words or phrases verbatim into a cover letter does not offer any benefits to the reader, as the same information is available in a slightly different format. If using bullet points, ensure they provide additional information not included in the resume. The cover letter provides the option of giving more detailed information about the most relevant points in your resume, to show how your skills, experiences and talents will deliver the results the prospective employer is looking for.

Always ensure that you do not send out a blanket cover letter with the salutation “To Whom It May Concern”. This type of cover letter implies that you have not taken any time to consider the individual employer’s needs, and lets them know that you are sending the exact same cover letter to multiple companies. Ideally, a cover letter should be addressed to a particular person at a particular company for a particular job. Granted, sometimes you will not know the name of the person in charge of hiring. Often, you can glean this information from a company’s website or even through calling the company to ask. If this information is still not available, addressing the cover letter to a Hiring Manager or a Human Resources Manager is preferable to the canned “To Whom It May Concern”. In this case, a company name and address should be included to show that the letter is still targeted.

The best cover letters are written with the job posting in mind. Addressing key points and providing sufficient detail about why you are the best fit is a good start. If the job posting asks for a clean criminal record and a DZ license, as well as good knowledge of the geographic area, ensure that you include these key points in your cover letter. When constructing a targeted cover letter, it helps to review the company’s website, learn about their history, read about projects they are currently working on, and review their values and mission statement. Many of these details can be woven into the cover letter to show that you have done your research and you are interested in applying your experience to this company for good reasons. It shows a level of care and customization that simply are not conveyed through a non-targeted letter.

Creativity is another way to catch the reader’s attention. Starting your cover letter with an impactful first paragraph, rather than a canned or template-based paragraph, will ensure that the remainder of your cover letter, and your resume, are reviewed in more detail. Take some time to think about why this job posting is ideal for you – perhaps through a personal experience you’ve had, or a brief related story you can tell – and this lets the employer know they are not reading a typical application. This is especially important for career-changers and those with an inconsistent work history, where their resume does not necessarily indicate without a doubt that they would be a good fit. An example of an impactful start to cover letter for someone wanting to get into an administrative role in a health care setting could be: “Had the services of XYZ Long Term Care Facility been available when my father was terminally ill, it would have made such a difference in the life of our family.” The applicant can then go on to briefly explain how the facility’s services would have been beneficial, and how they see their skills fitting into this setting. This opening captures the attention of the reader and briefly introduces a personal story that connects the applicant to the organization in a meaningful way, and entices the reader to continue reviewing the application. Another example of a creative opening could be something like: “Growing up, I loved helping my grandmother with baking and cake decorating. Creativity is in my DNA, and this job opportunity is just the thing I need to reintroduce this passion into my life.”

If a creative opening doesn’t appeal to you, or you don’t feel the circumstances fit for this type of letter, the general construction of a cover letter includes:

– Introduction – What job you are applying to and how you found out about it

– Body (1-2 paragraphs) – Details how your skills, experience, education and talent fit into the company’s objectives and the job description. Remember not to repeat things from the resume verbatim! Show that you are the best person for the job.

– Conclusion – Thank the reader for considering your application, and politely request an interview.

In terms of style, ensure that the “letterhead” (the portion of the letter containing your name and contact information) appear the same on your cover letter and your resume. A common mistake is to use different styles, formats and fonts, which can appear disjointed and unprofessional. Your letterhead of part of your brand, and needs to be consistent in all of your personal marketing documents.

If you are looking for further assistance with your cover letter, or with anything else related to your job search, please feel free to reach out to me at: eberry@jhs-niagara.ca