The real scoop on using cover letters today
quiz: use a Cover letter (pick one):

a) always;
b) never (they’re old-fashioned);
c) to hammer home why you’re a perfect fit for the job;
d) a and c;
e) b

I know, right?

Back when resumes were snail-mailed, a cover letter was an integral part of the application process, a genteel ‘nice to meet you.’ Today’s online applications have kicked cover letters to the job-hunting curb. Mostly.

So when DO you use a cover letter? What should it say? And to whom should it be addressed?

correct Answer:
use a cover letter when it’s not immediately apparent why you’re the right person for this job.

For example:

  1. Location (you live out of commute range): use a cover letter to briefly address:
    • What brings you to our fair state? (ie. to be near family, partner got a job or grad school placement here).
      We recruiters are leery of relocating someone JUST for a job, especially when Minnesota has things like…winter;
    • Timing (will you find a job FIRST, then move? How soon do you expect to be local?);
    • Will you be visiting the new metro (ie. be able to interview) before your move?
    • Are you looking for a relocation package (we’ll ask anyhow)?
  2. Job pivot : When you’re applying for a job that’s different than the ones you’ve held, help us connect the dots. Use a cover letter to address the reason why your skills/experience are a fit (tweak your resume, too).
  1. Stepping down:  From CIO to director, manager to sole contributor. Again, help us understand. Keep it short, acknowledging that you’re applying to a less-weighty role. Focusing on the value (experience) you can add while dialing your work responsibilities back, ie. “I’m ready to move from a leading role to a supporting role.”

That’s the ‘when’;
Some tips on what to say

 

  • Select 1-2 key requirements from the job description (don’t just match years of experience ~ find something juicier: talk about similar industry, company size, growth trajectory or how you’ve successfully tackled issues your target company may be facing);
  • Craft a couple of sentences about your experience as it relates to those requirements (ie. “with experience creating scalable processes within a rapidly-growing company, my background should be a good fit.”
  • Invite: “I’d welcome the opportunity for a conversation / interview / discussion. I’ve heard great things about <company / company’s transformation / other buzz>.”

And to whom

  • Do a quick LinkedIn search on the company you’re applying to. Can you figure out who the hiring manager is? If so, address it to that person and say something like, “Based on my research, it seems likely that this position reports to you.”
  • If you can’t figure out who the hiring manager is, see if the job is posted on LinkedIn. If it is, who’s the recruiter listed as ‘point of contact’? Use that name. If there isn’t a recruiter named, address your cover letter to ‘Talent Acquisition’ or ‘<company name> Recruiter’ or ‘Hiring Team’.

put it all together: A template
(you’re welcome)

<Date>

<first last>
<title, department>
<company name>
<city state>

RE: <position title + job / requisition number from the company’s Careers page, if you have it>

Hi, <first name>,

I hope your week’s off to a great start. I’m very interested in being considered for the role of <insert job title> at <insert company name>. With my <insert relevant skill #1>, <insert relevant skill or industry experience> + <insert soft skill>, my background should be a good fit.

I look forward to hearing from you or someone on your team!

Warm regards,
<your first and last name>
c 123.456.7890
<your email address>

Want your cover letter to be read?

Keep it short, relevant and curious/confident (not ‘pick me! pick me!’).

There are no guarantees that your cover letter WILL get read, but when you’ve kept it tidy and trim, it’s much more likely.


I’m a word-nerd + recruiter who loves to help mid-career job seekers refine (or define) their professional brand.

Need some help? Here’s a link to my calendar for a free 15-minute chat.