Many students and graduates ask if they will need to write a cover letter – well, the jury is still out. Companies have piles and piles (virtual, of course) of resumes from eager applicants and many times will not have enough hours in the day to read a cover letter.  A college recruiter from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners shared that “resumes should be short and sweet – cover letters mean more reading which can be tough with lots of applications.”

I have personally heard from recruiters on both sides of the aisle and because of that I still recommend applicants provide a cover letter. The idea is that I would much rather provide more quality evidence that might not be read than to not provide enough material and lose out to someone who was able to share more about themselves. The Director of Selection at Northwestern Mutual stated that she “loves cover letters” and that more “personality and passion” can provide guidance in their recruiting. Cover letters can become mundane and applicants have to use the page to make it worthwhile if recruiters are trying to choose between top candidates.

If you do opt-in and want to add a cover letter, we should go over what will be most important to include that will make your application stand out in a positive way and will help the recruiter picture you in the role.

What’s in a strong cover letter?

Company knowledge

The better you understand the company and the culture of an organization, the better your personalized cover letter will be. If you are applying for a nonprofit organization, make sure that you are speaking to their goals or the cause that they work diligently on. They want to see from your application that you are knowledgeable about their company and have a clear interest in pursuing a career with them. Because of this, cover letters should be specific to the position you are applying to each time.

Personality + branding

I am writing to apply for…

I am writing to apply for…

I am writing to apply for…

Recruiters see thousands and thousands of applications for their open roles. If they are looking beyond your resume at your cover letter then they are actively searching for a deciding factor that will set candidates apart – the simple statement “I am writing to apply for” is not going to cut it. Tell a short story to sell your brand and passion for the role, if you are applying for a creative company – write in a creative manner, and always have a friend read it to make sure the message you want recruiters to see is actually coming across.

Why you?

Do NOT simply replicate your resume. A college recruiter from Cerner Corporation mentions that if you do add a cover letter to your application make sure that you provide clear statements and points as to how your past experience or current relevant skills will help move their organization in the right direction. Avoid being too overzealous by expressing that you would be able to completely transform their company [unless you can deliver] but bring strong evidence for your case within the specific position.