Why You Need a Cover Letter

Do you really need to send a cover letter with your résumé? The answer is yes. Even though many resumes are now uploaded to online systems, or sent via e-mail or other electronic methods, a cover letter or a shorter e-letter for electronic submissions is still needed and can work to your advantage.

The cover letter serves an important purpose and often creates the first impression. It is not simply a quick, generic letter that you throw together to get your résumé out in the mail or posted to a job board. It is an important tool that, at the very least, informs a hiring manager who you are and why you are interested in the position or working for that particular company. At best, it is an effective selling tool that will make a hiring manager want to read your résumé and pick up the phone to schedule an interview.

All of your job-hunting correspondence should include some type of cover letter, and later, follow-up correspondence that is part of the job search. This includes the cover letter that is always sent with a résumé, thank you letters, networking letters, job acceptance letters, and even resignation letters. This correspondence is more than simply a formality. Not only are these letters a common courtesy, but cover and follow-up letters can be used to progress your candidacy or rekindle an old application.

The Résumé Cover Letter

This is the communication most often thought of when people hear the term "cover letter." A cover letter should always accompany a résumé. From the practical point of view, the letter informs the hiring manager who you are and why you are writing. Do not assume that the person reading your résumé will automatically know which position you are applying for, even if you are responding to a job posting or submitting to an online system. Even if you think your background and skills are an obvious perfect match for a job, do not leave it up to the reader (or even the electronic system) to make that connection for you. It is up to you to inform your reader of your purpose.

This does not mean that your cover letter is simply an introduction to your résumé, as in, "Please see the attached résumé for your consideration in regards to the electrical engineering position listed in the Sunday edition of the Daily Times." Hiring managers have seen too many of these types of letters. Your cover must convey much more than informing the reader that your résumé is enclosed (or uploaded, or attached, if you are sending your résumé via e-mail).

Your cover letter should be used as an additional sales tool. This is not to say that it should be a repeat of your résumé in prose form. Instead, it should sell your best qualities in a brief manner, making the reader want to read your résumé. Think of your cover letter as a movie trailer or teaser. Show your audience some of the most exciting and enticing things that you have to offer, and make your reader want to see the whole picture.

The cover letter also provides an opportunity to include information that isn’t appropriate for the resume, but can still be important, such as any in-company references or other connections to the company, and other related information that may be suitable for a specific situation, but not applicable for general submissions.

As with résumé writing, there are no hard and fast rules; however, the cover letter needs to accomplish a few things. The following is a list of some basics that should be included in your letter.

Your Name and Contact Information

It sounds obvious, but if you include only your signature at the bottom of the letter (and some candidates have even forgotten to sign their names), a potential employer may not have any method of contacting you. Résumés do get separated from the cover letters. Be sure all your contact information is included. For hard copies and/or submissions submitted as file attachments, the best solution is to use the same heading as in your résumé. This will ensure a professional and consistent look to your correspondence. (You will also want to use the same header for all additional correspondence. Your information may be kept on file, and it will speak well for you if all your letters are uniform in appearance. Employers appreciate attention to detail.)

For e-mail submissions, include your full contact information in a signature, including your phone number. Your reader may prefer to call (or even mail) rather than reply by e-mail. Ensure the reader has the necessary information to use a correspondence method of choice.

Who You Are and What You Do (or Hope to Do)

You may assume that the reader knows which job you are applying for, particularly if you are responding to an online posting or a job listing. This is a dangerous assumption and could well land your résumé in the recycle bin. Introduce yourself and inform your reader of your reason for writing. Include the specific position title and any other identifying information, such as a job code. Again, make it as easy for your reader as possible.

Why You Are Writing

What is your purpose for sending your résumé? In many instances, you want to get an interview. If you are sending a résumé to a networking contact, you are writing to have your résumé forwarded to someone else who can grant you an interview. The goal of sending your résumé is to sell yourself so that you will be invited to meet (or speak on the phone or videoconference) with someone who has the power to offer you a job. Rather than simply stating, "Thank you for your time and consideration," ask for an interview or at the very least state that your purpose is to gain an interview.

Where Your Résumé Is Located

Inform your reader that your résumé is enclosed, attached, or uploaded, depending on the delivery method. Some postings request e-mail submissions, but not attachments. In these instances, inform your reader that your résumé is pasted below. While your cover letter is more than an introduction to your résumé, you still need to convey that the résumé is available for reading; otherwise, you would not be writing.

Your Signature

If you are sending a hard copy, do not forget to sign your name. Forgetting makes you look sloppy. Sign your name in black ink. At the close of your letter, space down four lines and type your name to match the way it appears in your header. Sign between the typed name and the close of your letter.

For e-mail submissions, include your full name in a signature line. If you have an image of your handwritten signature, you can use that as well. Some people like to use a cursive font for a signature, prior to the signature block. This can work fine; just take care to avoid overly fancy fonts, opting for one that is easy to read and that looks professional.

An Enclosure Notation

For hard copy letters and attached files, two lines below your typed name, indicate that there is an enclosure or enclosures. Even though you have already informed the reader that your résumé is included in the correspondence, use the enclosure notation. If sending an attachment, indicate that instead. If your résumé is pasted in an e-mail, it is okay to eliminate this notation.