By Jason Brashler
After you've spent hours filling out an application and tailoring an effective, smartly-written resume, writing a cover letter may feel a bit redundant. After all, your resume already displays your previous experience, relevant skill sets and a list of impressive accomplishments; why should you dedicate time to restate that information?
The answer lies in the narrative format a cover letter uses. While your resume is written in bullet point format and does an excellent job of articulating your relevant background in concise sentences, it does a poor job of telling an overall story. Sure, the reader might be able to guess at how everything fits together, but they may create an inaccurate narrative based on their own assumptions, or they may not get a detailed depiction of certain relevant job responsibilities.
For example, you may have a bullet point that reads something like, "Handled escalated customer service issues," which gives the reader a decent idea of what you did, and may indicate some advanced or additional job responsibilities. A cover letter, on the other hand, allows you the chance to explore the type of customer service issues you handled, and might do a better job of depicting success within that position overall.
The bottom line is that cover letters are an essential component to your job search and an effective complement to your resume because they allow you to tell a story (although brief), about yourself and why you, specifically, are a great fit for the position you are applying for.
Here are a few tips when building a cover letter:
- Avoid using the same cover letter for every position you apply for.
Each position is somewhat different, and you want to speak to the specifics of each position you apply for. Also, a cover letter designed for a specific position will show the hiring manager how sincere you are in your interest.
- Keep your cover letter brief.
Even though you are constructing a narrative and spending some time on the details here, you still want to keep the reader’s time constraints in mind. Try to keep your cover letter to three short paragraphs, and make sure the information is directly relevant to the position you’re applying for.
- Sustain a polite tone.
Avoid doing anything that can be perceived as overly aggressive, such as asking to schedule an interview, in your cover letter. Make sure to thank the reader for their time.
Cover letters can work against you if they are written poorly, so make sure your grammar and spelling are pristine.
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Jason Brashler is a Career Services Advisor for AIU Online.
By providing students and alumni with career search advice and resources, he strives to positively impact student and graduate success in the real world.