Do people still use cover letters?
If you haven’t been for an executive interview in a while, you may be wondering whether people still use cover letters and if so, how to structure one.
The simple answer is ‘yes’. A cover letter can be a powerful tool at an executive level to help you pique the interests of a search partner or recruiter and get noticed.
But when it comes to nailing the cover letter, you can’t just throw something slapdash together. Here are a few tried and tested tips for getting the cover letter right.
Cover letters should be succinct
Your cover letter should be one page. No more.
“As Mark Twain famously said, ‘I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead,” says Executive Interview Coaching founder Richard Elstone. “In other words, it can be quite hard to write a one-page letter and include everything you need, but it can be done.”
Cover letters should be written like a letter
“We use emails all the time and there’s an informality around them, but people have forgotten the art of writing a letter,” says Richard. “As with interviews, you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression, so if your letter writing isn’t good, you might as well not have written a cover letter.”
Start by including the date, your name and your contact information in the top left corner. Then address the letter correctly, which brings us to our next point…
Ensure your cover letter is properly addressed
Try to find out the name of the hiring manager or recruiter who is overseeing the hiring process and address the cover letter to them. Avoid generic greetings like, “To whom it may concern” or “Dear Sir or Madam”.
If you don’t know their name, use ‘to the recruiter’ or ‘to the search partner looking after this assignment’.
If you are looking to move on from one organisation to another, it’s best to use a personal email address to submit your cover letter and resume (as long as it’s work appropriate!).
Structure the content correctly
The opening paragraph should reference the role you’re going for, introduce yourself and touch on how the role aligns with your career goals. If someone has referred you directly, you could drop their name here.
The second paragraph needs to connect your previous accomplishments, skills and experience to the position’s requirements.
“You should properly address the job specifications and point the recruiter to where there’s a correlation between your experience and the job specifications,” says Richard. “The information you provide needs to be directly relevant to the job ad or to the job specifications.”
In the final paragraph, close by explaining how your values align with those of the organisation. “I always encourage my clients to go to the organisation’s website and read their values, then draw parallels between the organisation’s values and your own.”
Lastly, end the cover letter with an assumption you’ll hear back from the recruiter. For example:
Thank you for your time and consideration. I look forward to hearing from you to discuss my application further.
Sign off with a friendly, yet formal signature, such as “Kind regards” or “Best regards”. It’s best to avoid casual closings such as “Cheers”.
Use a professional font
“Nobody uses Times New Roman – that went out with the ark,” says Richard. “Choose something professional and contemporary like Arial or Calibri.”
It’s a good idea to use the same font in your cover letter that you used in your resume. After all, recruiters are likely to look through both at the same time and continuity is your friend.
You’ll likely submit the cover letter and resume as an attachment to an email. The best file formats are usually .doc or PDF.
Tip: Name the cover letter something convenient for the recipient, such as First name-Surname-Cover-Letter.doc.
Don’t include a photo
“I discourage people from including photos in resumes, but some people still do,” says Richard. “You certainly wouldn’t include one in a cover letter.”
Leave your headshot for the LinkedIn profile.
When to follow up
Richard says if you haven’t heard back after a week, it’s probably advisable to follow up with an email or phone call. After two weeks, you may need to start looking for another position.
Cover letters are another weapon in your arsenal to get noticed by hiring managers and recruiters, so it’s worthwhile investing your time and energy into getting them right.
If you need a second opinion, Executive Interview Coaching can help. We offer expert advice on everything from your resume and cover letter, to how to optimise your digital profile and nail the executive interview.
To get started, get in touch today!