To whom it may concern, your cover letter probably isn’t being read. Especially if you’re starting it with “To whom it may concern.”
According to a Forbes article written by a recruiter with 15 years of experience, many recruiters “almost never” read the cover letter. However, unless you are told not to include one, cover letters are a job search must do.
Here are three things to consider when creating a winning cover letter.
The basics: customize your cover letter
Whether it’s a human or a computer reading your cover letter, including key words from the job posting will show the reader that you’ve done your homework. Be sure to clearly state the position you are applying for, the main skills required for the position and how your work experience demonstrates that you possess those skills.
To really impress the reader, research the company and include one or two facts about the business that relate to the position you’re applying for (for example, “I read in Canadian Business that you won the Xyz Award for the best creative marketing campaign last month”).
A cover letter offers the opportunity to directly address the reader, so if it’s not listed on the job posting, use your resources (Google, LinkedIn, a telephone) to find out who you need to address your letter to. To go the next step, make sure that your application lands in their inbox.
The content: honesty is the best policy
Forbes recently published an article about a cover letter that Wall Street bosses are calling “the best cover letter ever.”
In the letter, a summer internship applicant writes, “I won’t waste your time inflating my credentials…The truth is I have no unbelievable special skills or genius eccentricities, but I do have a near perfect GPA and will work hard for you.”
Such upfront honesty won’t work for every industry, but this internship applicant was rewarded for avoiding a common cover letter downfall — the tendency to exaggerate your qualifications.
Inflating your skill set by using vocabulary that’s outside of your everyday language makes a cover letter awkward to read and difficult to write. To create a cover letter that’s professional, yet conversational, don’t use two words where one would work and don’t use a 10-cent word where a two-cent word will do.
Above and beyond: when to craft a creative cover letter
A creative cover letter alternative must be of professional quality and must highlight your skills as they apply to the job you are competing for.
For example, instead of writing a traditional cover letter for a corporate communications position that I applied for, I created a media kit about myself including a press release, a fact sheet and my resume. Although I didn’t get the job, I scored an interview at a great company.
If you’re willing to go the extra mile to craft a creative cover letter, know the industry you want to work in, be professional and use common sense. A poorly executed YouTube video probably won’t get you an interview for an accounting position. However, a well-made website (this genius mock-up of an Amazon.com product page featuring his candidacy as the product) might put your resume on top of the pile for a digital media position.
Do you think cover letters are becoming extinct? Have you had a successful creative cover letter experience? Share your thoughts in a comment.