We’ve gotten this question far too many times: "Should I even write a cover letter? Is it necessary?" Yes and yes. Write a cover letter. It doesn’t matter what type of job you’re applying for unless you're explicitly asked not to write one. Going beyond the fact that cover letters are basically required now, your cover letter allows you to become more than just a resume. It gives you the opportunity to explain exactly why you’re a strong fit and how your experience applies to the role and the company in question. It gives you a chance to show passion, tell a story, or to explain some gaps in your resume or skill set. Bottom line: not having one can hurt, and putting effort into one can help -- tremendously.
Keep it concise
Cover letters should be short, sweet, and to the point. Keep them to no more than two medium-length paragraphs. One paragraph should be about you and why you’re a strong fit for the role and the company. One should be about the company and the role and why they’re a good fit for you. A sentence or two maximum should be dedicated to a call to action (described later in this article). And include your contact information!
Don’t restate your resume
Your resume is there for a reason – it provides important information about your work history so that your employer can judge whether you’re a strong fit for the job. Don’t make your cover letter redundant by repeating what you’ve written in your resume. Instead, use your cover letter to summarize your career development and take key points that you want to elaborate on from your resume to back up the summary. For example, elaborate on an accomplishment from your resume by describing how you achieved it. Your cover letter should use information like this to paint a picture for why you’re a great candidate. You can also talk about how you want to develop further and what skills you're looking to practice, letting the company know that you're ready to learn on the job.
The easiest mistake to make is to think you can have a single cover letter for all job applications. Don’t send out generic cover letters. Using a canned cover letter is dreadfully obvious to recruiters and hiring managers. You can have some standard sentences, but no more than 50% of your letter should be pre-written. The pre-written parts should serve as a template around which you build the rest of your cover letter. Your general story should be the same, but how you directly relate it to the job should not be pre-written. Your entire paragraph about why the job and company are good fits for you should never be canned. Do your research for each company and find out exactly why the fit makes sense.
Have a call to action
Your cover letter is the perfect place for you to include a call to action to the recruiter or the hiring manager. A call to action is a statement of what should happen next. You can go down two routes for this call to action. If you're sending this to a specific person and not a generic form online, say you’re looking forward to meeting with the hiring manager to talk about the position, and list two or three times of availability over the next few weeks. If you're sending your cover letter and resume into an application system, instead end by detailing when you'll follow up with an email to their department. Never end a cover letter with “looking forward to hearing from you soon.” You won’t. Unless you do your part.
When you say you’ll follow up, do it. Even if you don’t say you’ll follow up, do it. For a guide on how to follow up, read about How to Nail the Job Application Follow-up.