Algorithm and AI-driven resume screening may become the trend and could become the norm some day, but at most companies trying to fill critical roles, there is still usually at least one human being spending a few moments deciding whether to put your resume into the follow-up box or the trash can.
And this is why, for all the talk out there about how resumes are no longer needed, writing a good resume actually still matters. But having a resume is, I believe, not enough to tell your story. That's where your cover letter (or email) comes in. Experienced recruiters can learn a lot from a resume, but with your cover letter, you're getting one chance to weave the data points of your career into a coherent and compelling narrative. It's your first shot at delivering your pitch to a potential recruiter.
Well-crafted cover letters give recruiters a lot of valuable information that a resume can't. They show very clearly whether you can communicate well in writing, they give you the chance to demonstrate your enthusiasm for the company and the role you're applying to, and they provide a chance to fill-in the spaces in-between the bullet points on your resume with valuable insight into who you are like as a person.
Here are some tips for writing cover letters that are more likely to be read, and which could increase the chances of your moving into the next stage of the recruiting process.
1. Personalize it.
If you know who the recruiting manager is, or you have the name of the manager who holds the ultimate decision-making power or who wields significant influence in the process, then address it to her. Personalizing the address field in your letter or email is just one more way to connect with the reader of your cover letter. Of course, it may not always be possible to identify the right name, but it's worth the effort to find out. Do some sleuthing on the company's website, or ask the search firm who is helping you.
2. Prove why you're qualified.
Don't let your resume speak for itself. With your cover letter, you now have a few moments to grab the recruiter -- virtually, of course -- and set him aside to make your pitch. Get straight to the point and let him know why you believe you are qualified for the role, and then give examples from your work experience. Be concise and don't simply repeat what you put on your resume. Boil down your qualifications to the three or four strongest ones, the ones for which you can confidently say you'll be able to start adding value from day one on the job.
3. Show how the position fits your career trajectory and aspirations.
Why are you applying to our company? And why now? Why would you want to leave your current company? What are your longer term career goals and how does this role fit into them? These are just a few of the questions running through a recruiter's mind and are almost certainly going to be part of an interview with you, if you make it to that stage in the process.
Why not offer a clear and compelling answer to these questions in your cover letter? It may not give the recruiter everything they need to understand you, but it will be an important data point they can use to determine whether you are going to be a good fit for the role.
4. Demonstrate excitement.
Yes, recruiters want to know: Are you qualified for the job? Do you have the qualifications and experience necessary to start adding value from day one? But they also want to know, will you enjoy working for them? Will you enjoy the role? Will you stick around?
To answer these questions, demonstrate enthusiasm about the company and the role, and, if you manage to find out who you will be reporting to or working most closely with if you do join the company, show that you're excited about working with them and helping them achieve their goals.
5. Be confident.
Without getting cocky, of course, show that you're confident: Confident about your qualifications and experience, confident that this is the right company and the right role at the right time for you, and confident that you will make a positive contribution to the company.
And finally: Proofread your cover letter! Check name spellings of the company, of the role, of the person you're addressing your letter to. Have someone help you read through it for grammar and usage, and for tone.