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Purpose of a cover letter: key elements and importance

Purpose of a cover letter: key elements and importance

  • What is the main purpose of a cover letter?
  • Key elements of a cover letter
  • 1. Showcase your relevant skills and achievements
  • 2. Reinforce your interest in the role and company
  • 3. Let your personality shine
  • 4. Address any red flags
  • Cover letter FAQs
  • Which is the most important aspect of a cover letter?
  • What are the three main things needed in a cover letter?
  • What’s the best layout for a cover letter?
  • Should I include a cover letter if the job posting says it’s optional?
  • Key takeaways

Are cover letters worth the time and effort? Cover letters can show the hiring manager that you’re serious about the role and could influence their interview decisions. We’ll explain the purpose of a cover letter, with key elements you need to include.

We’ve all heard the phrase “You don't get a second chance to make a first impression,” and when it comes to cover letters this is certainly true. A cover letter is an opportunity for you to build a connection with a hiring manager and allow your personality to shine through. Something a resume simply cannot do.

Understanding the key elements and important aspects of a cover letter is vital if you want to ensure you stand out and get invited for an interview. So what is the purpose of a cover letter and why are they so important? In this article, we’ll dig deeper including:

  • What is the main purpose of a cover letter?

  • Key elements of a successful cover letter

  • Cover letter FAQs

What is the main purpose of a cover letter?

A great cover letter demonstrates your interest in the role, describes your positive impact in previous roles, and markets you as the perfect person for the job. Done well, this letter can set you apart from the crowd and give you a competitive advantage by encouraging the hiring manager to read your resume and learn more about you. 

The value of cover letters is hotly debated. Many sources say that cover letters are outdated and only a handful of recruiters care about them. If this is the case, then why bother? The answer is that hiring managers are not all the same. For every one that ignores cover letters there’s another that will read every word and let them influence who they invite to an interview.

Statistical Insight

According to Forbes, cover letters do still really matter. Statistics show that 56% of employers prefer to receive a cover letter and 45% of recruiters said that not having one could result in an application being rejected.

Key elements of a cover letter

A great cover letter won’t guarantee you the job, but a lack-luster effort could result in you not receiving an invite to interview. Here are four key elements to consider when creating a persuasive and professional cover letter:

1. Showcase your relevant skills and achievements

Be purposeful about the information you include. Your cover letter shouldn’t simply repeat information from your resume, it should showcase your relevant skills and achievements that tie into the responsibilities of the role. 

Focus on two or three specific details that highlight your successes, including facts and figures where possible to back up the skills being put forward. Perhaps the role is focused on the leadership of large-scale finance projects to deadline. In this situation, you would want to include an example of a standout, large-scale finance project you led, what you achieved, and how you were recognized for delivering key project milestones to deadline.

2. Reinforce your interest in the role and company

Companies are looking for individuals who have a strong interest in the job opening and are passionate about joining their organization. Your cover letter offers the perfect opportunity to show your enthusiasm and commitment to succeed if appointed. 

Why are you so interested in the role? What prompted you to make this move in your career? Maybe you’re passionate about smart content and native marketing and the company is a trailblazer in this field. Perhaps you’re looking for a new challenge. Whatever the reason, communicating this via your cover letter is one way to show you do really want to work there.

Do
  • Address your letter to the hiring manager by name. This shows you’ve done your homework and is more personalized.
  • Edit and proofread your cover letter with care. Typos and spelling mistakes are one of the main reasons hiring managers reject job application documents.
Don't
  • Create an overly long cover letter. Shorter cover letters work better, so aim for around 300 words in total.
  • Apologize for a lack of experience or qualifications in your cover letter. Focus on the positives and what transferable skills and experience you can offer.

3. Let your personality shine

When employers read your cover letter they’ll be keen to get a sense of your personality and whether you’ll be a good fit for the role and company culture. While you need to remain professional, try to avoid overly formal, cliched cover letters that read like all the rest. 

Research is vital when creating your cover letter. Gather as much information as you can on company values, activities, and culture via the company website, blog, social media, and the job description. Use this information to match the tone of your cover letter to the industry and include examples of aligned values. For example, the company may actively support non-profit groups, so you can reference any community involvement and how you value philanthropy.

4. Address any red flags

A cover letter is a golden opportunity to address any red flags or concerns the hiring manager may have with your application. When reviewing your resume, recruiters may notice that you don’t live in the same area as the job location or that you have gaps in employment. 

Plans for relocation and being out of the workforce for two years due to caring for a sick relative can be explained via your cover letter and avoid any uncomfortable conversations during an interview. This information just needs to be clear, concise, and placed at the end of your letter.

Expert Tip

Your cover letter will be accompanying your resume, so make sure you use a matching header/template and font so that the documents look uniform. If you send two completely different documents this will just look confusing and won’t project your professionalism.

Cover letter FAQs

Here’s some frequently asked questions about the key elements and importance of cover letters to bear in mind when preparing for your next job application:

Which is the most important aspect of a cover letter?

Arguably the most important aspect of a cover letter is the opening paragraph. This is your chance to hook the reader and entice them to read on. Recruiters receive a high volume of applications following a job posting, so it’s crucial to grab their attention. 

One way to achieve this goal is by mentioning your connection to the company. Conduct some research and gain specific insight into the role and company. This could involve speaking to industry professionals, reviewing client testimonials, or attending networking events. You can then refer to these activities in your opening hook. 

Here’s an example

  • “Many people tell me that working in technical support for one of the Big 3 is the same, but after speaking to industry professionals and attending the Power Platform event, Microsoft really stands out to me.”  

This will hook the reader, as they’ll want to know why you think they stand out.

What are the three main things needed in a cover letter?

A cover letter should have:

  1. A compelling introduction that hooks the reader 

  2. A sales pitch that shows why you’re the perfect person for the job

  3. A convincing conclusion that summarizes the value you can bring to the company and your strong interest in the role. 

Your conclusion should wrap up with a call to action to encourage the hiring manager to get in touch.

What’s the best layout for a cover letter?

Choosing a simple, clean, and well-structured template is best. Keep your cover letter to one-page, three paragraphs, with a professional font (Arial, Calibri), great formatting, and a final check for any typos, spelling, or grammatical errors. 

Should I include a cover letter if the job posting says it’s optional?

Despite the fact that you’ve been given the option not to send a cover letter, it’s a good idea to include one anyway. This shows that you’re willing to put in the time and effort to write a cover letter and should impress recruiters. The caveat to this is when the job advert expressly asks you not to include a cover letter.

If you’re looking to create a professional cover letter and need some help, check out Career.io’s Cover Letter Builder to craft customized letters that will leave a lasting impression.

Key takeaways

  1. The purpose of a cover letter is to connect your skills and experience to the job opening and demonstrate your strong interest in the role and company.

  2. Showcasing personality, relevant skills and achievements, and a drive to succeed in your cover letter are key elements that can convince the hiring manager to give you a shot.

  3. Cover letters are also a great opportunity to address any red flags, such as large employment gaps, relocation plans, or a shift to a new industry.

  4. Clearly cover letters matter. Creating a short, concise, and targeted cover letter that markets you as the best person for the job is worth the effort.

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