How to Write a Job Application Cover Letter

When applying for jobs, many professionals believe that a strong resume is the key to getting a job offer. Realistically, this is rarely the case. Resumes are tools job seekers use to land job interviews, an actual face-to-face meeting the crucial step needed to actually land a job. As for resumes, they serve as part of a team to help job applicants stand out from the crowd of competitors. An equally critical document that is often downplayed is the accompanying job application letter, commonly referred to as the cover letter.

Cover Letters serve to provide a brief narrative that identifies the skills, strengths, and expertise a job applicant can offer an employer. In combination with a resume, a cover letter helps direct a hiring manager’s attention to what makes a respective job applicant a great candidate for an interview and further consideration.

While writing a cover letter is not an overly complex process, most job seekers fail to put in the time and effort to generate a strong, personalized letter, which is why most applicants fail to land a job interview. When done well, with care and attention to detail, a cover letter serves as a greater device than the resume itself, helping applicants grab a company’s attention and secure one of only a handful of interviews actually offered.

Cover Letter Formatting 

Cover letters, like resumes, work more effectively when they are designed and presented in professional formats considered “proper” by hiring managers and committees. As with a resume, a cover letter should be printed on the same color and weight of paper the accompanying resume is printed on. As for paper styles, use a white or off-white color paper.

While some employ paper with bold colors to try and stand out, many hiring managers find such ostentatiousness immature. Add the unique color fonts that are often used on cover letters printed on boldly colored paper, it often becomes difficult to even read the information presented. What good is having the skills sought if the hiring manager cannot read your cover letter?

As for style, stick with easy to read fonts such a Calibri and Arial, and make certain to use between an 11 and 12-point font size (any smaller and your cover letter will be hard to read). It is critical to use the same fonts (size and style) on your cover letter as you used on your resume. Failing to do so, the lack of consistency in formatting could be seen as unprofessional or the job applicant not taking the application process seriously.

For gauging clarity of style, I long used Times Roman at 12-point font size for a standard size (and always black ink on white or off-white resume paper). Due to advances in technology, specifically Applicant Tracking Systems/Software (ATS), I now use Calibri at 11-point font size.

Applicant Tracking Systems

Many employers receive hundreds of cover letters and resumes for each position their company makes available. No hiring manager or HR staff member has enough hours in a day to read through that volume of applications. As a result, Applicant Tracking Systems/software (ATS) was developed to filter out cover letters and resumes best suited to the respective job.

The systems scan for keywords and relevant phrases to help identify cover letters that should receive consideration while setting aside those letters and resumes that are deemed by the ATS as unsuited or unrelated to the job. These systems are not perfect, and qualified candidates are at times excluded by ATS simply because of formatting and word usage. What’s a job seeker to do? Make certain your cover letter includes keywords and phrases from the job ad you are applying to.

Yes, at times your cover letter will sound repetitive, which is something my clients have found boring. However, repetition of keywords is the way to increase your chances that an ATS is going to select your cover letter for the hiring manager’s consideration and review.

In addition to highlighting keywords from the job ad, there are formatting elements that job seekers need to be mindful of when considering ATS. For instance, adding charts or photos to a cover letter could lead to your application letter being overlooked. As for fonts, some ATS have issues with various font styles, including Times Roman. With this in mind, use Sans Serif fonts like Calibri and Arial, which appear to hold up better when processed by an ATS. Also, be careful of adding photos or adding text boxes and similar formatting as doing so could lead to your cover letter and resume never getting read by a hiring manager.

As a final note, new ATS are in development so additional issues may arise just as some glitches may be addressed. Seek assistance from a certified resume specialist to keep current on ATS requirements and standards.

To Whom It May Concern

I like consistency in cover letters and resumes. In turn, I recommend that clients use the same heading for a cover letter as the heading used on their resume. Name, boldfaced and in a large font size, along with your address, professional email, and the primary phone number you can be reached at are essential in a cover letter’s heading. As for a “professional” email, I simply mean you should avoid usernames that include nicknames or any “inappropriate” language. In other words, make certain to avoid usernames such as Hotstuff@email.com or Mr.Fabulous@email.com, which are not at all appropriate. Even if your cover letter made it though an ATS, a hiring manager would likely discard your application considering such usernames as signs an applicant is not serious or immature.

Your heading set, we move on to whom you should address your cover letter. Job ads often identify a specific person cover letters should be addressed to. However, in many instances, no such contact person is identified. Should no contact person be identified, it is acceptable to use the classic “To Whom It May Concern.” Often, the identified contact person is actually an assistant and not the hiring manager who actually reviews cover letters and resumes. That said, if no contact person is identified, step things up a notch. Contact the company’s HR department and ask if there is a specific person you can address your cover letter to. Often times, the company will reveal the name of the hiring manager, and a hiring manager is likely to appreciate your being so thorough.

Job Identification

Within the introductory paragraph of a cover letter, it is important to identify the specific position you are applying for. Failing to do so, essentially submitting a generic cover letter, can be problematic as a hiring manager may not know which position you are actually applying for. Remember, companies could have over a hundred positions open at any one time, and hiring managers will not usually waste time trying to determine the best fit for a submitted resume and cover letter. Instead, they will just move on to the next cover letter and resume in the queue.

Beyond identifying the job being applied to, I use the introductory paragraph to also briefly identify a client’s skills and profession to let a hiring manager know right from the start that the applicant’s cover letter and resume are worth a thorough review.

Summary of Qualifications 

After the introductory paragraph, I provide a bullet list of a client’s skills and past career achievements that highlight why the client is a good prospect. In many cases, simply inputting the ‘Summary of Qualifications’ section from the resume should suffice here, further connecting the resume and cover letter while also keeping information consistent amongst a job seeker’s application materials. If the client’s resume includes a “professional profile” instead of a summary of qualifications, that could likewise be broken down into bullet points and incorporated into the cover letter.

Connecting Experience with Job Application

Following the bullet list of skills and achievements, include a short narrative of examples from your work history where you achieved success completing work on par with the job you are applying for. In the event you are changing fields and have no relevant work history or achievements, include examples of your leadership, instances where you improved the efficiency of a company’s operations, or some other achievements that highlight your success in being a team player and helping to improve a company’s services.

After completing the narrative, I end this section with a sentence referring back to the position being applied to and stating the fitness of the client for the position:

“As your Financial Advisor position requires expertise similar to mine, I believe I would serve your company well in this role.”

Closing

For the final paragraph, I advise a quick statement of your wish to meet with the company or hiring manager to discuss your relevant skills and work history:

“I would appreciate an opportunity to meet to further discuss my financial planning and investment analysis experience at your earliest convenience.”

Then, in conclusion, provide your phone number and email once more and thank the reader for his time:

I may be reached at (555) 555-5555 or via email at username@email.com.  Thank you for your time and consideration.

Cover Letter Sample

Cover Letter Sample

Conclusion

Job application cover letters are instrumental in helping a job seeker an interview. True, hiring managers can be picky and over critical of materials and documents applicants submit for consideration. Yet, following the guidelines aforementioned in this article, you will be well on your way to writing a solid cover letter and being offered an interview.