I often get asked if applicants need to have a cover letter when applying for jobs online. Since many platforms have embedded profiles and a few now allow for your LinkedIn profile to be submitted in lieu of a resume, I decided to do a little research.
3,067 jobs listed a resume and cover letter as required application documentation on Indeed.com today (25 miles of 94025). Several went so far as to specifically list “Resumes without a proper cover letter will be ignored”. Others gave directions like “In the first paragraph write why you would like to work at companyname. In the second paragraph tell us why you think you are well suited for the role”. Isn’t this cover letter 101?
Speaking of cover letter 101. If you don’t know the basic format and information to include when composing a cover letter, Google and the directions listed above will get the job done. Write about:
- The role you are applying for.
- Why you are excited about it.
- Why you are qualified without stating obvious facts on your resume. A great way to discuss personality traits, passion etc.
- Proofread, edit and proofread again. Mistakes cannot be tolerated.
The employer who listed the warning above simply meant that applicants who don’t follow instructions will be disqualified. If we choose to consider the word “proper” in the context of content that is a different matter. So what is a proper cover letter that can’t be ignored? Much like a resume, answers vary from person to person and organization to organization. Here’s my advice using examples plucked them fresh off the internet!
- Look for clues about tone, word choice and jargon from the directions.
Ex. Sure, we’re smart and we have lots of ideas and energy, but our success is born out of collaboration and infectious devotion to innovation. To apply, please send us your resume and cover letter. In your unique letter, please tell us why you want to work here.
Alright, these people have an infectious devotion to innovation-so if this resonates with you without giving you a stomach ache talking about the mission, vision and values of the company will probably help here. Fluffy jargon and techno speak will be right up their alley. Buzzwords, may work too without turning anyone off. They asked for a “unique” letter.
If the directions simply ask for a cover letter without a qualifier such as “unique” avoid hyperpolysyllabic words and phrases directed to make you sound intelligent. If you need to look up hyperpolysyllabic or any other word, don’t use it in your cover letter. If you look up hyperpolysyllabic in Dictionary.com it shows an example from an 1820 exploratory narrative. “Hence the polysyllabic, and the descriptive character of the language, so composite in its aspect and in its forms.” Clearly people don’t speak like this in today’s society, or very few do anyway.
Use the “reasonable person” test. What is this? The reasonable person test simply means asking yourself if the average person in your community would understand what you have written. Understand and respond to it positively in emotion. I often find myself turned off by the persona the applicant is trying to portray when reading cover letters that seem to try too hard by showcasing vocabulary and long strings of sentences.
- Follow Directions. Prepare behavioral examples.
Following directions requires no further explanation. If they ask, provide. Provide in the format they ask for it. If they ask for a letter, don’t mail a package or tweet a response just to be noticed. Unconventional tactics are sensational more than they are successful.
Behavioral interviewing is a commonplace interview technique designed to ask questions which show how the interviewee will react in work related situations. Check out our post on how to prepare for a behavioral interview here. More and more companies are asking for the same type of information in your cover letter as a qualifier before even speaking with you.
Ex. When applying-Answers to the following should be included in your cover letter: Name three adjectives people use to describe you and describe a time when you have dealt with a challenging interpersonal situation
Want an impressive answer? Name three adjectives each followed by a succinct explanation. Just follow the directions as required, no more or less. You may have 5 or ten adjectives but leave it at 3.
As for describe a time when…this one is tricky. I kind of like these folks! This question covers a lot of ground. Can you follow directions, provide an authentic answer and give them a peak into what it’s like working with you? Wow!
Here’s another example. This one ties it all together. Fluffy “work-speak”, directions and a behavioral ask.
Ex. In your cover letter, please include information about your experiences working in a diverse environment and what qualities you would bring to supporting this commitment to inclusive excellence at …
Just break it down. Write plainly; provide your example qualities and why you believe in diversity in your work environment. This may be a little overwhelming but with practice you can provide this information without undue stress. Answering these questions takes practice; editing and thought so don’t expect your first attempt to hit a home run. When in doubt, play it safe. Avoid humor and don’t make a joke of your response. Tell a story with a beginning, middle and end.
Lastly, avoid over thinking this. Yes, you need to put thought into it but don’t spend hours and hours crafting the perfect response. Balance the time required to thoroughly respond with the possibility that your cover letter may never be read.
We work closely with all our job seekers to guide them through the application process. If you are searching for a role in accounting, administration, finance, human resources, marketing or operations in the San Francisco Bay Area, call us today. Menlo Partners Staffing, a Peninsula based employment agency (650)752-6193.