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What’s a Cover Letter? Is It Still Alive? [Lensa Insights]

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What’s a Cover Letter? Here’s Everything You Should Know

Browsing the web for job ads and constantly applying for various positions can be a hectic process for even the most organized job seekers. Figuring out how to compose your resume can be a nightmare. But it’s a walk in the park compared to figuring out how to write an effective cover letter.

What’s a cover letter? Is it the same as a resume? A waste of time? Or not?

The job market is always changing, and it can be challenging to keep up. If you think a cover letter is a recruitment relic, you’re not alone. But, you’re also not right.

Our article will explain:

  • What a cover letter is
  • How to write a cover letter that stands out
  • The difference between a cover letter and a resume
  • How to write a cover letter for different purposes, such as for entry-level jobs or after a career break

What’s a Cover Letter Definition?

A cover letter is a document that you send in addition to your resume when you apply for jobs, with the goal of explaining the reason for applying or giving more information about yourself. 

While it’s not always a requirement, many companies still consider them a mandatory part of the application process.

If a job ad says you need a cover letter, you should roll up your sleeves and prepare to create one. 

What Does a Cover Letter Do, and How Can It Help You?

Three female colleagues looking at a single laptop

Source: Alexander Suhorucov

A cover letter—also known as a motivational letter—is not just a formality (nor an HR has-been). 

Think of it as an opportunity to expand on the skills you’ve included in your resume. You can go into greater detail about the value you’d be bringing to an employer’s business.

A cover letter is your proverbial hook to get a company’s attention. It shows how willing you are to commit to a future occupation. After all, it will be—along with your resume—the first touchpoint you have with their recruiters. This is why you shouldn’t just dryly state your qualifications but show genuine interest in the job. 

Despite all the slander on LinkedIn and rants about cover letters being outdated, the fact is that cover letters do matter. Recruiters still read them, and they may reject your application if they see you’ve put no effort into composing a cover letter.

An inspired cover letter with contents matching the job description may turn the scales in your favor.

What To Include in Your Cover Letter

The specifics of your cover letter contents depend on the role you’re applying for, but you should always include certain information. For example, in the heading, you should always have your name and contact details.

The introductory part is there to set the formal tone of your cover letter. You don’t need to rewrite it every time you apply for a different position, but you still need to change the company name and role to align it with the job description. The same goes for the concluding statement. This is convenient since you can use them as start and end points to outline your cover letter.

You should also consider the particular requirements and responsibilities of the position. How do they relate to your skill set? Do your qualifications meet the company’s hiring criteria?

After you’ve got a good idea of what the job entails, you should carefully elaborate on:

  1. Relevant career accomplishments
  2. Skills that set you apart from other candidates
  3. Ties you have with other notable companies in the same industry

Feel free to emphasize one part above the rest if you feel the information is valuable enough to deserve a spotlight.

What Not To Include in a Cover Letter

A pile of interesting facts about your career doesn’t equal a great cover letter. Some details aren’t relevant. Others can hinder clarity. There are even those that can ruin your image. For this reason, you should avoid:

  1. Tirades on how well you performed in an unrelated role
  2. Expositions of your entire employment history
  3. Jabs at previous employers
  4. Jabs at previous jobs
  5. Complaints about how hard it is to find a job

A cover letter should be text-based and easily navigable because ATS bots can’t process:

  1. Italicized text
  2. Tables
  3. Charts
  4. Graphs
  5. Colored text

How Do You Format an Attention-Grabbing Cover Letter?

Woman listening attentively while an interviewer asks her questions

Source: Tima Miroshnichenko

Knowing how to format your cover letter is as important as knowing what to include in it. 

Most recruiters won’t notice every detail you include—they’ll only pick up on the bits that stand out. Due to this, you should organize your text so it’ll be easy for them to get the main point—what skills you’re bringing to the table, how well you can perform in the role, and why you’re the perfect choice for the position.

To improve the readability of your cover letter, you should implement:

  • Spacing—Hit the Enter button between separate sections 
  • Left text alignment—Align the text to the left to make it easier to read
  • A clear-cut professional font—Use a neutral-looking font such as Arial and Times New Roman
  • Bolded text—Emphasize key elements that you’d want a recruiter to notice immediately
  • Bullet points—Highlight crucial details, such as role-related skills and important career accomplishments
  • Quotes from previous referrals—Keep in mind that you should explain the background and relevance of these statements

What’s the Structure of a Good Cover Letter?

The most common method of structuring a cover letter is to divide it into several easily skimmable parts. To help you get a feel for what each section should contain, check out this table:

HeadingName and surname
Phone number
Email address
The date you’ve applied for the job
Formal introductionDear all
Dear Sir or Madam
Dear [Company Name]
To whom it may concern
Opening paragraphState where you’ve heard of the company and whether someone referred you to it
Explain why you’ve taken an interest in the company
Mention why you think you’d be a great fit for the role
Main paragraphExpand on your abilities, education, work experience, and any additional job certifications
State some relevant career highlights and achievements
Say exactly how your expertise can benefit their business
Closing paragraphThank the recruiter for their reply in advance
Restate your interest in potential future cooperation
Concluding statementThank you for your consideration/time
With kind regards

What Is the Most Important Part of a Cover Letter?

What you should pay attention to are the sections that need to contain the gist of what you’re trying to convey to a particular company. Copy-pasting them just won’t do—it’s better to start with a simple cover letter that you can later modify according to the position you’re applying for. It would work as a master doc containing all relevant information.

You can choose your best traits and emphasize them in your actual cover letter, as well as explain how they’re applicable in a given role. 

Avoid ambiguous statements—they will raise red flags for recruiters who’ve already gone through thousands of lookalike cover letters. The point is to make yours unique.

Do You Have To Follow Some Rules When Composing Your Cover Letter?

Creating a good cover letter means structuring it in a clear, concise, and informative manner—but you don’t need to blindly follow a specific template. There are other creative ways you can go about it. 

For example, you can cut the introduction short and focus more on the main paragraph. You could also try merging some parts if you find it improves the flow.

Sometimes, a company may have certain preferences regarding the structure of your cover letter. If so, you should follow their instructions instead of relying on a pre-configured template.

In short, you’re free to play with the structure to some extent. If a template you’ve found online is counterintuitive or ineffective for your purpose, find another one—or adjust it so it can suit your needs.

Try not to get carried away when writing and customizing your cover letter. No matter how clear and precise it is, you should still keep it relatively short—one page is sufficient.

Can You Send Your Cover Letter in the Body of an Email?

Yes, and turning in your cover letter via email isn’t that much different from sending it as an attachment.

The same rules as usual apply—you can divide it into paragraphs and insert a bullet list with your skills and qualifications. It should also be short and precise, without any unnecessary details.

Also, it would be prudent to add your contact information both at the top and the bottom of your email message.

Essentially, sending a cover letter this way is a bit more convenient for people who possess little experience in writing.

How Do You Compose an Entry-Level Cover Letter?

A group of colleagues working together at a table in front of their laptops

Source: fauxels

Are you thinking about applying for an entry-level position? If so, you should adapt your cover letter accordingly.

A company that’s searching for a junior candidate will have different expectations from one that’s looking to fill a senior position. While they may not expect you to possess prior experience in the role, you should still explain why you can be a valuable asset to their team.

Instead of listing hard skills and qualifications, focus on:

  • Displaying your soft skills, such as communication, time-management, and attention to details
  • Showing the burning passion you have for the industry/niche
  • Illustrating how your education makes you competent for the job
  • Mentioning relevant part-time gigs, internships, and volunteering experience you’ve worked on

If you’re a senior candidate who’s looking to score an entry-level job (scandalous!), you need to approach the job hunt from a different angle.

Recruiters tend to be skeptical about overqualified applicants. Their line of thinking is—why would someone with experience apply for a position that’s way below their skill level?

If you find yourself in such a scenario:

  • Mention your previous work experience, but don’t overemphasize it
  • Don’t draw a sharp distinction between the junior role and your senior status
  • Honestly state what dissatisfied you with your prior senior position but don’t bash your previous employer or the company

How Do You Fill Career Gaps in Your Cover Letter?

Three colleagues in a meeting discussing their current project

Source: Edmond Dantès

If you have a noticeable career gap in your portfolio, you might be worried about mentioning it.

Employment gaps are not uncommon and can happen for various reasons. 

Perhaps your previous employer had to scale down their company due to economic factors? Maybe you took some time off due to medical or other personal issues?

While a simple career gap shouldn’t prevent you from getting a job, some employers will not take too kindly to this. This is especially true if it’s due to a medical condition. Whatever the reason, you should mention the situation and write the reason, but there is no need to go into specifics.

Below is a table showing you how you should present a career gap in your cover letter:

Mention any courses you attended
State the certifications and credentials you acquired during the gap
Include volunteer programs you were a part of
Name relevant personal or semi-professional projects you completed
Say you used it to take a prolonged vacation
Describe how you just needed a break
Complain how no one was willing to hire you
Rant about family problems that prevented you from working

Cover Letter or Resume—Do You Need Both?

Which one is more important—a cover letter or a resume? Both documents serve to present your skills, experience, and qualifications in a favorable light. This is true, but that’s not all there is to it.

The truth is that the cover letter and resume are equally important. One complements the other, and you’ll need both for a complete application.

A resume is a marketing tool—a flat list of what you have to offer. But it can be deceptive as it doesn’t specify how you have used your skills (and how you can use them in a future role). 

A resume also doesn’t show the actual person who’s sending the application. That’s where the cover letter comes into the picture. Its purpose is to clear up any vague points in the resume while simultaneously recapturing its overall meaning.

No, the cover letter isn’t dead, despite what you may have read online. It’s still vital for getting a job. A cover letter is as crucial as the resume as it allows a recruiter to gain a more in-depth understanding of your character, personal preferences, and cultural background. If you submit a cover letter—though it may be optional—you’ll almost always have an advantage over those who don’t.

Define Your Career Path a Better Way

Jobs don’t grow on job-trees, and the current COVID-19 pandemic has only made matters worse. The situation is disheartening. Research shows that 37% of workers believe getting a job will be even more challenging with time.

Data shows that almost 4,000,000 people have been unemployed for more than 27 weeks in 2021. This number proves that—even if you write a stunning cover letter—you’ll still face dozens of competitors who are also searching for a job. In this situation, it’s not uncommon to be on the job hunt for weeks and months on end.

There are many obstacles, both obvious and concealed, and it could take you more than six applications to even get an interview. This is where Lensa steps in to make your search for a job an easy ride.

Lensa is not a hiring platform but an AI-powered job aggregator that lets you do much more than just look for a role based on your location. It can help you define your entire career path!

Subscribe right now to enjoy all the perks that Lensa offers:

  1. Access to numerous job ads across the different hiring platforms Lensa partnered with
  2. Custom job recommendations via email or SMS
  3. Reviews of your resume based on how ATS-friendly it is
  4. Ability to filter out remote positions
  5. Chance to play the Workstyle game and learn a little bit about your character and professional preferences

Sign Up for Lensa in No Time

Signing up for Lensa is a piece of cake! Visit the Lensa website and go through these easy-to-follow steps:

  1. Enter your desired role and location
  2. Press the Search button
  3. Write your email address
  4. Select the Submit option

After you have completed the registration, you can immediately start searching for that dream job—or you can play the Workstyle game. To additionally personalize your account:

  • Provide your phone number to get SMS notifications
  • Narrow down your desired salary range
  • State your degree of education and prior work experience
  • Upload your resume

The more specific you are, the better your chances of finding a job that’s tailored to your personal needs!

Featured image source: olia danilevich

Team Lensa
Team Lensa
Team Lensa is a group of HR specialists, career counselors, and tech enthusiasts dedicated to helping job seekers navigate the employment landscape through actionable tips and insights.

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