Don’t Skimp on the Cover Letter

Like peanut butter and jelly or Batman and Robin, a resume is best when paired with a strong cover letter. In an age when most applicants apply for jobs through the Web, many creatives are tempted to skip the introductory letter. Don’t.

Eighty-six percent of executives our company polled said cover letters are valuable in evaluating job candidates.

A thoughtfully written letter is another tool that can distinguish you from the crowd of applicants, allowing you to detail the unique skills and qualifications that make you ideal for the role. Following are some tips for crafting an effective cover letter:

1. Avoid a generic salutation

If possible, don’t start your note with “To whom it may concern” or “Dear sir or madam.” Instead, be proactive and call the company to ask the hiring manager’s name (as well as the correct spelling), title and even the person’s gender if it’s not obvious. Addressing your letter to a specific individual will demonstrate both motivation and resourcefulness.

2. Keep it focused
Hiring managers don’t want to read a novel, so limit your note to three or four well-crafted paragraphs. Explain why the job interests you and what qualities you can bring to the position. Also show some personality. Just make sure you stick to information that is relevant to your fit for the position. Your interest in urban gardens won’t fall into that category unless you are, in fact, applying to an advertising firm that represents landscaping companies.

3. Customize the content
It’s important to target each letter to the firm you contact. You can discern what professional accomplishments to focus on by looking at the job posting. For example, if you are applying for a position that involves managing a small team, play up your interpersonal skills and previous experience overseeing other creatives. Expand upon one or two key points from your resume—perhaps how you kept your team motivated when they were under a particularly tight deadline—to better key into the potential employer’s needs.

4. Showcase your top attributes
There’s a fine line between confidence and cockiness. Saying you are the “best graphic designer west of the Mississippi” is less effective than explaining how your redesign of a client’s website increased sales by 15 percent or noting that you won an notable award for your work.

5. Address any concerns

Your cover letter also is the place to address any issues that may give a hiring manager pause, such as gaps in employment. Briefly explain why you were out of work and, more important, what you have been doing since then to remain professionally engaged. 

6. Don’t make demands
Avoid asking for a specific salary or including other demands (“I prefer working from home every Friday.”) The purpose of your letter is to demonstrate how you can contribute to the company’s goals, not vice-versa.

7. Check for errors
A sure way to take yourself out of the running for a job is having a typo or grammatical mistake in your cover letter. Have a trusted friend or family member review the document before you send it out. Along the same lines, don’t stretch the truth about your accomplishments. Even seemingly minor misrepresentations — saying you managed a collateral update when you actually co-managed it with a colleague, for example — can come back to haunt you during the reference or background check process.

When well crafted and targeted to the opportunity, a cover letter can give you an edge over the competition. Don’t miss the chance to make a strong first impression and set yourself apart from other creatives.