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Career Focus

Cover Letter Confessions

By LISA TRUDEL - April 8 2020

Recently, a job seeker said to me: “Why do I need a cover letter? The job posting only stated to email a resume, so why should I bother?”

My answer was my customary explanation that included: never let your resume go anywhere without one; a cover letter is a professional business etiquette standard; it demonstrates your writing skills; it can set you apart from other applicants.

However, this curious job seeker made me inquisitive too, and after doing some research, I was amazed to find out the following statistics. According to a recent survey by ResumeLab of 200 Hiring Managers, 83% of the time, a great cover letter was enough to convince them to extend a job interview to a candidate with a less than perfect resume.

If this is true, then it’s time to find out what makes a great cover letter.  According to Dustin McKissen who was named one of LinkedIn’s “Top Voices in Management and Corporate Culture”, the following are 4 tips to consider when writing your cover letter:

  1. Address the letter to a specific person. If you are still using “Dear Sir or Madam” or “To Whom It May Concern” you are taking a fast route to the trash bin. If you don’t have a name, do some research on the company website or LinkedIn. Enter the company name along with “Hiring Manager” and see if you can find a name. If all else fails address your letter to “Dear Human Resources”.
  2. State the exact job posting you are applying for. Gone are the days when you could just write to a company and state “Please keep my application on file and when a job for me appears, contact me”. In 2020, you have to apply directly to a job posting and state the exact position title and where you found the job listing.
  3. Do not repeat your resume. Cover letters are not long essays that summarize your resume. They are an opportunity to explain why you are interested in the job using a more conversational approach than your resume. Instead of mentioning your qualifications and talking about yourself, try to incorporate why you want to work with them. Get the potential employer excited by the idea of interviewing you. Hiring managers usually only spend 10 seconds reading your cover letter (after your cover letter and resume passes through an applicant tracking system) so grab their attention within those 10 seconds by describing your enthusiasm, and that you have researched their company, and that you want to contribute. 
  4. Use pronouns. Cover letters are a showcase of your writing skills, so you might need to review your basic grammar skills and how they fit into job applications. For example, resumes use verbs and adjectives; cover letters use action words and pronouns. However, there is one pronoun that you should never overuse and that is the word “I”. “I” statements can be viewed as though you are interested in what you can gain from the company. Instead, the focus should be on what the company can gain from you.

In summary, cover letters compliment your resume and can impress hiring managers. They are still very much required. However, there is good news for anyone who dislikes writing them. With more companies allowing candidates to apply via a mobile device or cell phone, employers might opt for a “cover note” where a candidate writes out their “elevator pitch” in a few sentences or within a required amount of character spaces. 

To find out more about job searching, cover letters, elevator pitches and how the application process is changing, contact your local Employment Ontario Career Centre. 

This article was submitted by Lisa Trudel, Career Specialist with the Centre for Education and Training. She works at their Parliament Employment Services location in the historic Cabbagetown district of downtown Toronto and can be contacted at: 

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