By Barbara Mitchell
Q: When I’m applying for a job online and it says a cover letter is optional, is it worth it to include one when everything they want to know is either on their application or my resume?
A: If a cover letter is optional, it’s still a good idea to include one, but only if you take the time to craft a letter specific to the position you’re applying for. Don’t use one of the generic cover letters available on the web—take time to create your own.
Start out by addressing your letter to the hiring manager or the recruiter, using his or her name, rather than writing “Dear Hiring Manager.” You may have to do some research to find this out. The organization’s website may include a staff list, or you can use LinkedIn to find a contact who either works or has worked at the organization where you’re applying and enlist that person’s help. If all else fails, call the organization and ask for a name. If you can’t get a name, leave the salutation blank.
Begin your letter by saying which job you’re applying for. (If the job posting has a reference number, include it.) The next several paragraphs should be about why you are the right candidate for the position. Consider creating a chart where you list their requirements on the left side and match up your qualifications on the right side. Here’s a sample:
|Your Requirements||My Requirements|
|8-10 years of progressive experience||12 years of progressive experience|
|Managed a $200,000 budget||Successfully managed budget of $250,000|
This format makes it easy for the recruiter or hiring manager to see that you have what they’re looking for.
If you don’t meet all the requirements, list as many as you do meet, and follow the chart with a paragraph that describes other skills and experience you have that would be an asset to the organization, such as excellent presentation skills.
If you were referred by someone who already is employed at the organization, don’t forget to include that information. Employee referrals usually go to the top of the list.
A well-crafted cover letter is an opportunity to showcase your skills to a specific potential employer. It can make the difference in whether you clear the first hiring hurdle and get invited for an interview.
Barbara Mitchell is a human resources and management consultant and author of The Big Book of HR,The Essential Workplace Conflict Handbook and the latest book—The Conflict Resolution Phrase Book. Do you have a question you’d like her to answer in “Ask the Expert”? Send it to [email protected].