How to make your cover letter complement your resume
It’s a big mistake most of us have made at one point or another: Writing a cover letter that doesn’t mesh with our resume.
Whether it’s writing a few dull paragraphs that simply repeat your resume points, or cramming in too many details without injecting any real personality, there are a lot of common cover letter flaws that make hiring managers wince with boredom.
So, what’s a better strategy for winning over a future employer? Making sure your cover letter complements your resume, by ditching repetition, adding personality, and giving the whole package a fresh look.
Here are a few dos and don’ts to make sure your cover letter hits the mark — and encourages a hiring manager to turn the page and keep reading.
Don’t be repetitive
It’s tempting to want to fill your cover letter with all your past jobs and accomplishments, but keep in mind, that chronological approach is exactly what your resume is for. So why give employers the same thing twice?
“You don’t need to tell the same stories in your cover letter,” says job search strategist Kamara Toffolo. “It should not be a regurgitation of your resume.”
Instead of simply describing your career experience — which makes for a dull read — it’s better to expand on a few key accomplishments, and let your resume list the rest. “The cover letter can be used to drive home your core three to four skills, and you can use some results to highlight those as well,” Toffolo says.
Showcase your personality
You also want your cover letter to strike a different tone than your resume. In the latter, bullet points and basic career details are key, but your cover letter should have more punch.
The cover letter is a place to include a bit of your personality, while there is less opportunity to do so on your resume, says career counsellor and coach Rebecca Beaton. “For example, you might want to include some humour, an interesting question, or share a personal connection to the company in your cover letter,” she suggests.
In short, your cover letter is where you show your warmth and “human side,” says Toffolo. “Be very approachable. Come across as someone the hiring manager or recruiter would like to have as a coworker.”
Connect with the company
Resumes can often feel a bit generic, but your cover letter is where you need to highlight that you’re not applying for just any job. Instead, you should flesh out why you’re the best fit for this particular job, at this particular company.
Beaton says it’s all about showing your passion, and suggests answering a few questions while you’re writing:
- Why are you applying to this company above others? What do you love about them?
- What do you believe about the work that this company is doing?
- What do you like about this company’s unique approach?
Address resume red-flags
If there are holes in the employment history on your resume, or red-flags like a big career switch or an unfinished degree, your cover letter is your opportunity to address those head-on.
“Were you unemployed for three years? Have you spent no longer than three months in your most recent job? Address why in your cover letter,” says Beaton.
Or if you’re applying for a job in another city or province and would have to relocate, Toffolo suggests being upfront about the situation — since an employer will likely spot your current location on your resume. “This is where you can call it out and explain where you’re relocating to, when, and what difference you want to make for your target organization when you are there,” she says.
Focus on design
Complementing your resume means making your cover letter a little bit different, but not when it comes to design. On this front, you should ensure both documents have a similar look and feel so it’s a cohesive, eye-catching package for your potential employer.
“In terms of formatting, make sure that the header on your resume — which typically includes your name, location, and contact information — matches the header on your cover letter,” Beaton suggests.
You can also put a matching tagline at the top of your resume and cover letter, to showcase the theme of your application. For example, she says, if you’re applying for a project coordinator position at a digital media company, your tagline might look like: Project Coordinator, Digital Media, Team Building.
A consistent design and brand for your whole application means you’ll look professional — and worth hiring.