Why Do I Need a Cover Letter?

Why do I need a cover letter?
The intent of sending an employer your cover letter is to introduce yourself to the potential employer as an interested candidate for the position you are applying for. However, it is also an opportunity to provide the employer with a brief overview of your skills and abilities that correlate to the job you are applying for that will ultimately contribute to the success of the company’s mission and goals. Aside from giving the employer the background information about your skills, the cover letter is a personal, yet formal greeting to the employer and gives the employer some insight about who you are. Essentially, you are asking for the opportunity to be considered for the position and when you think about it, it is no different than a contractor asking you for your business. While you won’t hire someone to fix your roof without an introduction and some research of your own about the contractor, an employer feels the same way about you.

How should I format the cover letter?
A cover letter is by all means a business letter and should be formatted as such. The employer wants to know you have the skills to write a formal letter in the event you are needed to do so with their company, and providing the required information doesn’t stop with your information. It is a combination of your contact information, their company name and contact information, the date you send the letter, the position title and job # if requested, as well as the proper salutation.

Who should I send the cover letter to?
Often times the contact name is given but we assume by the name the person on the receiving end is male or female, which can lead to one of the biggest mistakes caused in an introduction. The salutation “Dear Mr. Jones” is appropriate when you are certain it is a “Mr.” you are sending the letter to, but not when the person receiving the letter is actually a “Miss”, “Ms.” or “Mrs.” Many people have names that could either be male or female in context so for this type of situation your safest bet is to use their full name if you have it…”Dear Kim Jones.” The second problem is not having a contact name at all; in this situation it is good practice to address the hiring manager directly…”Dear Hiring Manager.” The one salutation I caution against is “Dear Sir or Madam,” it is a very generic way to begin a letter and most employers will discard the letter based on that alone. Also be sure to place a comma after the salutation, as punctuation along with proper grammar and correct spelling throughout is vital for all employer contact! (Be sure to proof read and allow a family member, friend or your  employment advisor to proof read before you send it to the employer)

Can I just make one cover letter for all jobs I’m applying for?
The simple answer for this is no. While none of us want to spend countless hours rewriting our cover letter to suit every single employer, it is important to address the employer’s individual needs as stated in the job description of the posted ad, as well as “schmooze” them a little bit with your knowledge of and interest in their company. However, if you are applying for the same type of positions over and over again, you can leave the body of the information about your skills and interest in that industry the same and dedicate one paragraph to reflect information about each employer you are applying with. (see the sample provided) If you are applying for several types of jobs in different industries then you will need to tailor more than just one cover letter to clarify your unique skills and interests in each respective industry and position.

Employers like to see that you have researched their organization as it shows your interest in their company as well as your willingness to be prepared with knowledge about the company, mission, culture and goals. The information you research should also be noted and remembered, as this information is what you will need when you land the interview because the interviewer will undoubtedly ask “Do you have any questions?” and you will be able to say, “Yes” and ask a few things about the position, the organization, the company development, or whatever it is that peaks your interest about the company with confidence.

How long should my cover letter be?
One page is plenty, more than one is too many. Although your intent is good and you want to provide excellent information, providing too much information may disinterest the employer because in their point of view, it will take too long to read! The cover letter is meant to be a brief introduction that outlines your skills, interest and knowledge of the company with a request to meet with the employer for an interview. Generally, the cover letter should include no more than four brief paragraphs (3-4 well-structured sentences each) and remember to tailor one of those paragraphs directly for the employer. The premise of your cover letter should not be a repeat of your resume but rather an overview of contributions you can provide with an explanation of why you should be considered for the position.

Should I provide my salary requirements?
Every now and then an employer will say something in their job posting like “Please send cover letter and resume with salary requirements.” Caution…The salary request is a screening tool or weeding out question. Perhaps the best way to handle this is within the last paragraph of the cover letter by indicating that “salary is negotiable.” By doing this, you have acknowledged the employers request to provide your salary requirement but leaving the door open for discussion, rather than letting them “weed you out” of a potential job.

It is within your best interest to research the median salary for the position before the interview through the occupational profiles at ALIS so that when they call you for an interview you have a general idea of how to negotiate the salary range when the interviewer asks about it. Keep in mind negotiating means picking a range, example; between $25,000 and $30,000 per year. As long as you have done your research to determine appropriate salary information, you should feel confident in providing the employer with a range when asked about salary, as the employer probably already has a firm number in mind. Whereas telling the employer in the cover letter that you want $30,000 per year could lead the employer to believe you are either over qualified or under qualified for the position depending on the salary they have in mind.

Should I include my disability in my cover letter?
For the most part, no. The whole point of a cover letter is to introduce yourself and how you will add value to the organization with your skills and abilities. When you start informing employers about your disability or limitations before you have a chance to meet with the interviewer in person, it may prevent you from getting the interview because even before meeting you, the employer forms an opinion about your ability to do the job through the information you present in your cover letter and resume. The impact of disclosing a disability or limitation could cloud the employer’s perception of you and be detrimental to getting your foot in the door for that first interview. However, there may be situations that it is to your advantage to disclose the disability such as a job posting that requires someone to know sign language or when a job posting is encouraging people with disabilities to apply, although this can be a “slippery slope.”

Link to: Basic instructions for creating a Formal Cover Letter 

There is more than one way to create a cover letter…the first is very formal and the one I most often recommend.  However, should you choose a more simplified and informal approach, this “T-Format” cover letter is also a good way to show an employer your interest in the position available.

Link to : Basic Template for “T-Format” Cover Letter 

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