If you do any reading in the jobseeker world you’ll quickly see there are a lot of divergent opinions about the humble cover letter. Some say they are old fashioned and you should not waste time on them. Others say they are an opportunity for keyword stuffing and you should bloat the letter up so it will make it through the AST programs. And still others say it is your chance to show your personality and creativity since the resume is so formalized. So who is right?
All of them. To a degree.
The cover letter is certainly not dead, but it has changed in terms of style and importance. I often make the analogy to a business suit. When I was growing up in the 80’s, my family owned a men’s clothing store so I got to see first hand the clothes buying habits of the typical worker. Every man in a professional job wore a suit, prided himself on his suit, even spent an inordinate amount of time matching ties and pocket squares to accessorize his suit.
Today, not so much. We now live in the world where heads of billion dollar companies show up in hoodies. But does that mean there are no business suits? Of course not. Mega stores like Gentlemen’s Warehouse couldn’t survive if that was the case. Men may now wear their suits less often, but they still keep a nice quality one in the closet for those occasions where it is required.
This is what the cover letter has become- it is the nice business suit you keep in the closet for those special occasions. So no, they are not dead, but you won’t need one as often as you used to. But just as most suit owners do not spend as much time latching ties and pocket squares, cover letter writers need to change their focus as well.
The modern cover letter has 3 distinct goals it must achieve, and ideally it needs to achieve them in 2-3 short paragraphs and a few bullets. First, it must name the position for which you are applying. This can be done in a single sentence. Second, it must explain why you are applying, and why you are a good fit. This generally takes another 3-4 sentences. Third, you need to provide back-up to your claim that you are the right person for the job. This can either be done in another short paragraph, or in a bulleted list. Then you just need to close out the letter expressing your desire to meet.
If you take the time to create a quality cove letter template then it can act like that good business suit you have hanging in the closet. Just as you may take out that suit and brush it off a few times a year, you cover letter template will need to be tweaked a bit to match each individual application. In the end, it is time well spent that just may differentiate you from the competition and lead to that next career goal.