Congratulations! You’ve reworked your resume and you’ve got an eye-catching, jaw-dropping masterpiece. Now that everything’s in order, you’re ready to submit your resume and apply for your fantasy job. Well, almost. You’ll need a cover letter first. Here’s how to write a cover letter for a resume that’ll put your name on the top of HR’s pile.
Why Write a Cover Letter for a Resume?
In some ways, cover letters are more important than your resume. They give you the opportunity to introduce yourself, or to explain your work history a bit further than a bullet-pointed resume will.
Maybe there’s a huge gap in your work history because you were volunteering with WOOFF or couch surfing across the planet. You can use your cover letter to explain this gap. Similarly, if you’re switching career fields, you’ll want to use your resume to tie your experience to the job you’re applying for.
A well written cover letter is like a sales pitch. In about three paragraphs, you’ll say hello to your new boss, you’ll summarize your past and you’ll explain how you’ll benefit the company in the future. If you’re a writer, you may already know how to write a cover letter for a resume. Break your letter down into a few sections, and the rest will come to you. But we understand that it’s not easy for everyone, so let’s look at the structure of a cover letter.
To begin, you’ll want to jump right in with an introduction. The introduction is your first paragraph, and you’ll tell your hiring manager how you found out about the job posting.
You already have a resume, so you’ll leave the specifics out of this. Don’t make your cover letter an outlet for name dropping or listing your references. You can do that in an interview, and it carries a bit of unprofessionalism.
Instead, keep it simple. “I’m writing in response to the Administrative Assistant opportunity you posted on Monster.com.” Specifically list the job you’re applying for, as HR can spot a generic cover letter from a planet away. Properly address your HR manager, too. Find out who will be receiving your application and address that person by name. There’s no need to get too personal. Mrs. Smith will do.
In the next paragraph, you’ll tell her in a few words how you qualify for the position. And if you can manage it, share with her how you’d fit in with the culture of the company.
This paragraph is where you can explain any gaps in your career. Were you a used car salesman last month but now you want to be a server at Red Lobster? Tell them all about how you’ve got great customer service skills. It’s all in how you phrase it. “While my resume reflects a long and successful career in the pre-owned auto industry, I would instead like to use my customer relations skills to provide a great experience for each of Red Lobster’s guests.”
If you know how to type a paragraph, you know how to write a cover letter for a resume. Don’t be afraid to use your imagination, but always be honest. Know the qualifications of the job, and find a way to tie in your past experience.
Setting up the Interview
The final paragraph is the one job seekers screw up the most frequently. The key to success here is confidence. It may be tempting to write something like, “I hope that you’ll reach out to me to set up an interview.” Don’t. Do. That.
Instead, be a little bit pushy. Instead of meekly tucking your tail between your legs and mumbling something about “hope hope hope,” take the first step. Suggest a time and a place to interview, or let your boss know that you’ll be calling at 10:00 on Wednesday, March 17. And then do it.
Writing this paragraph the right way is a little intimidating. You may feel like you’re asking someone to prom. But what’s the worst that can happen? They say no, right? Offering to meet or call your future boss is the absolute best way to get a response, whether it’s a no or a yes. And a response is the beginning of conversation.
Making Your Cover Letter Stand Out
According to salary.com, it takes 200 seconds for an employer to receive a resume as response to a job posting. That’s about 3 minutes, for those of you who hate math. And Forbes.com says that the average number of resumes received for a job posting is 118. So how do you keep from getting lost?
Alright, here are a few tips on how to write a cover letter for a resume that will stand out amongst 117 others.
First, show your personality. Now, that’s not giving you license to curse like a sailor or type in all caps. But don’t be afraid to use humor, if that’s what you’re good at. Steer clear of politics and religion, as always. And never, ever crack jokes at the company’s expense.
Second, be light yet professional. This may seem like a strange thing to say, but as a writer you understand that the slightest change in syntax can change the entire tone of a sentence. “I am looking forward to meeting with you to discuss this opportunity” indicates a totally different demeanor than “I’m looking forward to chatting with you about this opportunity.” No hiring manager wants to hire a bore.
Finally, research the company. Let’s say that you want to interview for a position with Verizon Wireless. You could include something in your cover letter just mentioning the company’s addition of a new smartphone. But don’t be an egghead. No manager cares that you know stock quotes or the name of the CFO of the company.
To summarize all of this, you’ll just want to keep your cover letter simple. No more than one page, or a few paragraphs. Be professional, and address your audience as specifically as possible. Don’t send generic cover letters, as they’ll immediately be thrown in the recycle bin. And take the first step in suggesting a meeting with your prospective employer.
Now you know how to write a cover letter for a job that will stand out in the pile. Couple this with a resume that’s well written and cleanly formatted, and you’ll be on your way to your job interview before you know it. Good luck!